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Biden tries to punish Israeli settlers

US President Joe Biden – facing anger from pro-Palestinian voters over his support for West Jerusalem’s war against Hamas – has issued an executive order seeking to penalize Israeli settlers who perpetrate acts of violence in the West Bank.

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Biden signed the order on Thursday, calling for asset freezes, visa restrictions, and other sanctions against foreign nationals accused of attacking or threatening civilians in the Palestinian territory. The US State Department later announced the first set of sanctioned individuals under the initiative, naming four settlers who had been accused of attacking West Bank civilians or Israeli activists.

“Israel must do more to stop violence against civilians in the West Bank and hold accountable those responsible for it,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “The United States will continue to take actions to advance the foreign policy objectives of the United States, including the viability of a two-state solution, and is committed to the safety, security, and dignity of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

At issue are assaults and threats against civilians, which have been used in some cases to force Palestinians off their land in the West Bank. For instance, one of the sanctioned individuals, David Chai Chasdai, was accused of leading a riot in which vehicles and buildings were torched and a Palestinian civilian was killed. There have been hundreds of settler attacks against West Bank civilians since the Israel-Hamas war began in October, according to the UN humanitarian affairs office.

Settler violence “poses a grave threat to peace, security, and stability in the West Bank, Israel, and the Middle East Region, and threatens the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

The sanctions will include blocking access to the American assets of the individuals targeted, as well as banning them from entering the US. The accused settlers also will be blocked from transactions with American citizens and from accessing the US financial system.

READ MORE: Washington demands probe into Palestinian teen’s death

The Biden administration stopped short of penalizing Israeli government officials. Axios reported on Thursday that the administration had considered sanctioning “ultranationalist” members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has tried to downplay settler violence. Netanyahu has argued that Israel is prosecuting individuals who break the law, and “there is no place for unusual measures in this regard.”

Biden, who is seeking reelection in November, has faced political backlash over his support for the Israeli war effort against Hamas. More than 27,000 people – primarily civilians – have been killed in Gaza since the conflict began, according to local health authorities.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday showed that only 34% of US voters approve of Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war. An earlier poll by CBS News found that the president’s support for Israel was alienating at least one-third of Democrat voters.

READ MORE: US imposes visa bans over West Bank violence

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