EU set to authorise sanctions against extremist Israeli settlers

The move comes weeks after similar measures imposed by the US, the UK and France

Palestinian mechanic and garage owner Motaz Qassrawi stands amid cars damaged during an attack by Israeli settlers in Huwara town in the occupied West Bank on March 13, 2024. AFP
Powered by automated translation

The EU's 27 foreign ministers are expected to give the green light on Monday for sanctions against six extremist Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank.

Further sanctions are expected beforehand against Hamas members for acts including sexual violence during the October 7 attacks on Israeli communities, diplomats have said.

“The political endorsement is expected on Monday and the legal acts will come later,” a senior EU official said on Friday.

The National understands that sanctions against Hamas members, which may include up to a dozen people in total, will precede those on Israeli settlers.

The EU decision comes weeks after the US, the UK and France issued similar sanctions on extremist settlers as violence against Palestinians in the West Bank has increased in parallel to the war in Gaza.

Negotiations within the bloc were reportedly held up by Hungary, which has changed its mind for reasons that remain unclear. Hungary routinely delays or blocks EU decisions in matters that require unanimity, including on aid to Ukraine.

Some countries, including the Czech Republic, wanted a clear separation between the two rounds of sanctions, so as not to appear to be equating Hamas' attacks to the acts of settlers. The bloc is deeply divided over the Middle East conflict.

“We are talking about one [listing] on Hamas related to sexual crimes committed in the framework of the terrorist attack against Israel, and the second is the behaviour of some extremist settlers in dealing with Palestinian villages and families,” said the senior EU official.

The UN special rapporteur on sexual violence in conflict Pramila Patten said earlier this month that she had found during a 17-day trip to Israel “clear and convincing information” of rape and sexualised torture committed against hostages taken during the October 7 attacks.

The UN has also called for an investigation into reports of sexual violence perpetrated by the Israeli military against women and children in Gaza.

The EU first listed Hamas as a terror organisation in 2003 but created a new sanctions framework for the group in January in wake of the October 7 attacks. It has listed six people based in the Middle East involved in financing the group.

The Gaza war will be high on the agenda at Monday's meeting which will also tackle the war in Ukraine, with ministers holding a virtual meeting with their Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.

Diplomats said that they expect ministers to discuss updating EU language on the Gaza war which was last approved in October.

At the time, EU countries called for “humanitarian corridors and pauses for humanitarian needs.” Last month, all EU countries except for Hungary agreed on calling for an “immediate humanitarian pause that would lead to a sustainable ceasefire”.

There is hope that Hungary will also support such language next week.

Some countries are also pushing for the EU to respond to reports that Iran may be transferring ballistic missiles to Russia for use against Ukraine, but the senior official said there was no proof at the moment of such transfers.

“We don't yet have evidence of the transfer of ballistic missiles from Iran to Russia,” they said.

The G7 countries issued a statement on Friday saying it was “extremely concerned” by such reports and that they would represent a “substantive material escalation” of Iran's support to Russia's war effort in Ukraine.

The EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell will also launch a discussion about a possible review of the bloc's trade agreement with Israel due to concerns over human rights violations in Gaza following a Spanish and Irish request.

Discussions are at “an initial phase,” said a diplomat. It is expected that many of Israel's closest allies within the EU, including Germany, will oppose a review of the trade agreement.

Updated: March 16, 2024, 7:16 AM