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EU mulls sanctioning violent Israeli settlers, tougher restrictions on Hamas

EU mulls sanctioning violent Israeli settlers, tougher restrictions on Hamas

Foreign Affairs ministers scheduled to gather in Brussels on Monday are set to discuss proposals by Josep Borrell, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, to issue sanctions on extremist settlers in the West Bank including possible visa bans.

The EU has repeatedly condemned Israeli settlers' attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank but has steered clear of issuing sanctions. A fresh bout of violence by such settlers in the West Bank following the October 7 attacks commandeered by Hamas in which 1,200 Israelis were killed and 200 more taken hostage, has however brought the topic to the fore.

The "orientation note" issued by Borrell's service, the European External Action Service (EEAS), and seen by Euronews, calls on member states to "explore EU reactions to settler violence in the West Bank".

"This may include visa bans against extremists attacking civilians and the use of the EU human rights sanction regime," it adds.

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Israeli nationals can currently enter the Schengen Area — which comprises 27 EU and non-EU countries — without a visa for a maximum of 90 days within a 180-day period.

The note also urges the EU to "enforce continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation and bilateral arrangements applicable to settlements products."

Following a 2015 decision, Israeli products made by settlers in the West Bank are meant to be clearly labelled as such and subject to less preferential customs arrangements. But it is widely seen as poorly implemented.

A senior EU diplomat said Friday the plan was pitched to member countries "in the framework of preserving the possibility of a Palestinian state," given that extremist settlers fiercely oppose the so-called two-state solution that the bloc sees as key to a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

"We have shared our idea with the member states that to preserve the integrity of the West Bank, we need to address the problem of violence," the senior diplomat said,

"We have seen that the Israeli army has not taken due action against these illegal acts," he added. In recent weeks, the bloc has hit back against proposals by figures within Netanyahu's cabinet to continue funding for settler communities

The US has already announced it will deny visas to Israeli settlers responsible for undermining peace and security. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo also said this week that the country "will work with the US" and that "extremist settlers in the West Bank will be banned from entering Belgium".

The note also calls for tougher sanctions against Hamas, which the EU considers a terrorist organisation, by tightening the screw further on its leadership and financing. It says member states should "consider the possibility of a standalone sanction regime".

"Hamas is an organisation with quite a strong capacity to act. That needs financing, in particular, for its weapons. So it's obvious that being only a terrorist organisation cannot be, apparently, reason enough for dissuading some people to finance Hamas," the senior EU diplomat said.

"So we have to focus more on that, on technical issues, how it is financed," he added, stressing that whilst Hamas' financing operations were very different, the bloc's past success in suppressing Daesh's financing instruments sets a positive precedent.

A second option, another EU diplomat said on Friday, would be to extend the "Iran (sanction) regime to allow another type of designation."

The Iran regime, the source explained, "concerns the restrictive measures taken within the framework of Iran's support for Russia's aggression against Ukraine, but whose scope could in fact be extended by including the notion of support, or participation from Iran to the regional destabilization."

The US government estimates that Tehran funds Hamas to the tune of an estimated $100 million a year. Countries including Qatar and Turkey are also believed to fund Hamas indirectly.

EU sanctions have to be approved unanimously by the 27 member states and while new sanctions against Hamas could likely be rolled out before the end of the year, restrictive measures against violent Israeli settlers should prove much more difficult to hash out.

The discussions in Brussels on Monday will come just three days after two Hamas militants - Mohammed Deif and Marwan Issa, considered the plotters of the October 7 attack and among the most wanted men by Israel - were added to the EU's terrorist list.

The individuals' EU-based funds and assets will be frozen, and operators based in the EU will be prohibited from making economic resources available to them.