(1/2)European Union flags fly in front of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium November 8, 2023. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File photo acquire license rights
BRUSSELS, Dec 11 (Reuters) – France, Germany and Italy called on the European Union to establish a system of special sanctions against Hamas, as EU foreign ministers spoke met on Monday to examine possible next steps in response to the crisis in the Middle East.
Among possible measures discussed at the meeting were a crackdown on Hamas finances and a travel ban on Israeli settlers responsible for the violence in the West Bank.
In a letter to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the foreign ministers of the bloc’s three largest countries said it was important for the EU to take “all necessary measures against the terrorist group Hamas and its supporters.
“This implies a stronger European commitment both to combating Hamas’s infrastructure and financial support, and to isolating and delegitimizing Hamas internationally, which in no way represents the Palestinians or their legitimate aspirations,” the statement said. letter, seen by Reuters.
Hamas is already listed by the European Union as a terrorist organization, meaning any funds or assets it has in the EU must be frozen.
The brief letter does not clearly specify how sanctions would be expanded or strengthened. If EU members agreed in principle, the next step would be for experts to develop the legal framework for determining which people or entities would be targeted.
The EU announced Friday that it had added Mohammed Deif, general commander of Hamas’s military wing, and his deputy, Marwan Issa, to its list of terrorists under sanctions. He is also considering adding Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, to the list, according to diplomats.
The letter said a separate sanctions program targeting Hamas would send a “strong political message” about the EU’s commitment against Hamas.
Such a project was one of several options outlined in a working paper from the EU diplomatic service.
France, Germany and Italy have already pushed such a project behind the scenes, but the letter from the Frenchwoman Catherine Colonna, the German Annalena Baerbock and the Italian Antonio Tajani increases the pressure on the other countries of the EU so that they support it.
Senior EU officials such as Borrell have also expressed concern over rising Israeli settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The document suggests an EU response could include travel bans to the EU for those responsible and other sanctions for human rights violations. The issue was not raised in the joint letter to Borrell, which spoke of “our solidarity with Israel.”
France said last month that the EU should consider such measures and Colonna told reporters on Monday that Paris was considering domestic sanctions against such people.
A Belgian government spokesperson said Belgium would seek to add violent settlers to the Schengen information database to deny them entry.
Diplomats said it would be difficult to achieve the unanimity needed for EU-wide bans because countries including Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary are staunch allies of Israel.
But some suggested that a decision last week by the United States, Israel’s biggest backer, to impose visa bans on those involved in West Bank violence could encourage EU countries to take similar measures.
Reporting by Andrew Gray, Angelo Amante; Additional reporting by John Irish; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Alison Williams
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Andrew is Senior Correspondent for European Security and Diplomacy, based in Brussels. He covers NATO and European Union foreign policy. A journalist for almost 30 years, he previously worked in the United Kingdom, Germany, Geneva, the Balkans, West Africa and Washington, where he covered the Pentagon. He covered the Iraq War in 2003 and wrote a chapter in a Reuters book about the conflict. He also worked at Politico Europe as an editor and podcast host, was editor of a fellowship program for Balkan journalists, and contributed to the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondent radio show .