US sanctions Palestinian group under decree used to target Israeli settlers

Biden administration imposes penalties on West Bank-based Lions’ Den, accusing it of threatening ‘peace and stability’.

Men wearing black holding guns
Mourners and fighters attend the funeral of Palestinian Lions' Den member Tamer Kilani in Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, October 23, 2022 [Raneen Sawafa/Reuters]

Washington, DC – The United States has imposed sanctions on a Palestinian group in the occupied West Bank based on a White House executive order previously used to penalise violent Israeli settlers.

The US on Thursday targeted the Lions’ Den, an armed group that emerged out of Nablus in 2022 and has claimed several attacks against Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank.

“The United States condemns any and all acts of violence committed in the West Bank, whoever the perpetrators, and we will use the tools at our disposal to expose and hold accountable those who threaten peace and stability there,” the US Department of State said in a statement.

It cited several attacks attributed to Lions’ Den fighters dating back to October 2022.

The sanctions block the group’s assets in the US and largely prohibit American citizens from engaging in transitions with them.

The penalties were issued under Executive Order (EO) 14115, which set up a legal framework for US sanctions against individuals and entities “undermining peace, security and stability” in the West Bank.

When President Joe Biden issued the decree in February, it was largely seen as an effort to crack down on settler violence against Palestinians that had intensified since the outbreak of the war on Gaza.

But only a few private Israeli citizens have been sanctioned under the directive, as the Biden administration has resisted calls to penalise Israeli officials responsible for abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank.

Earlier this week, Democratic US Senator Chris Van Hollen called on the Biden administration to sanction far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich under the same executive order.

“In my view, Smotrich should be subject to sanctions under this EO,” Van Hollen said.

The finance minister has withheld taxes owed to the Palestinian Authority and in March, he also declared 800 hectares (1,977 acres) in the occupied West Bank to be Israeli state land.

“You’ve got this person whose stated goal is for essentially Israel to take over the entire West Bank,” Van Hollen told the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

But Washington has been reluctant to take meaningful steps against Israel as Biden administration officials often pledge unwavering support to the US ally.

Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna said the Lions’ Den is a relatively small group, but it has grown in prominence in the West Bank amid the war on Gaza.

Hanna said the sanctions against the Palestinian group may be a “balancing act” against the penalties targeting settlers.

“It’s a way perhaps for the US to show even-handedness in terms of its dealings with all the groups in the region,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera