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Middle East updates: Israel angered by possible US sanctions

Published April 21, 2024last updated April 22, 2024

Israel's leadership has voiced indignation after reports that Washington intends to announce sanctions against an Israeli military battalion. DW has the latest.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Israel
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was expected to announce the sanctions in the coming days, according to a media reportImage: Evelyn Hockstein/REUTERS
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

Leading members of the Israeli government have hit back at a reported decision to sanction the Netzah Yehuda military unit.

The battalion allegedly committed human rights violations before it was withdrawn from the West Bank in December 2022.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership has said approval of US aid for Israel is an aggression against its people.

Here are the latest developments from the Middle East on Sunday, April 21.

Skip next section Rockets launched from Iraq toward US-led military base in Syria
April 22, 2024

Rockets launched from Iraq toward US-led military base in Syria

Rockets were fired late on Sunday from northern Iraq at a military base of the US-led coalition in northeastern Syria, Iraqi security forces said.

At least five rockets were fired from the Iraqi town of Zummar in the northern Nineveh province near the border with Syria, two Iraqi security sources told the Reuters news agency.

Iraqi security forces launched a major search operation in the province following the attack, the first against the US-led coalition forces in weeks.

The attack followed a visit to the US by Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani, during which he met US President Joe Biden.

It also comes one day after an explosion rocked a military base housing a coalition of pro-Iranian armed groups in Iraq's Babylon province south of the capital Baghdad.

Skip next section Israeli troops kill 3 Palestinians in West Bank
April 21, 2024

Israeli troops kill 3 Palestinians in West Bank

Israeli forces killed three Palestinians in two separate incidents in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah said. The Israeli army confirmed it had "neutralized" three attackers.

In one incident, Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that two teenagers aged 18 and 19 died after they were shot at the entrance of Beit Einun village near Hebron.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that "one of the terrorists [had] attempted to stab IDF soldiers that were in the area, who responded with live fire and neutralized him."

"At the same time, the other terrorist opened fire at the soldiers," the army said, adding that he too was "neutralized."

In another incident, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Israeli forces shot dead a 43-year-old Palestinian woman at the Hamra checkpoint.

Israel's military said the incident occurred when a "terrorist ... attempted to stab IDF soldiers who were at the post".

"The soldiers responded with fire and she was neutralized," the IDF said.

Skip next section Scholz warns Netanyahu against regional escalation
April 21, 2024

Scholz warns Netanyahu against regional escalation

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz discussed the situation in the region with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the phone on Sunday, according German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit.

"The chancellor emphasized that the aim now is to avoid an escalation and a regional conflagration," Hebestreit said.

Scholz also explained the European Council's decision to impose further sanctions on Iran.

European Union leaders agreed Wednesday to impose new sanctions on Iran's drone and missile producers over Tehran's unprecedented attack on Israel last week.

Skip next section Netanyahu vows to increase 'military pressure' on Hamas
April 21, 2024

Netanyahu vows to increase 'military pressure' on Hamas

Israel will increase "military pressure" on the Palestinian militant group Hamas to secure the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

"In the coming days we will increase the military and political pressure on Hamas because this is the only way to free our hostages," Netanyahu said in a video statement on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

He also threatened "additional and painful blows," without giving details.

Despite an international outcry, Netanyahu has repeatedly said the army will launch a ground assault on Rafah, a southern Gaza town that has so far escaped an Israeli invasion and where more than 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge.

Israel and Hamas have been in indirect negotiations for months over a cease-fire and the release of more hostages taken in the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. 

Until a few weeks ago, Israel believed that about 100 of the 130 remaining hostages were still alive. It is now feared that many more may be dead.

Skip next section Iran's Khamenei congratulates military for attack on Israel
April 21, 2024

Iran's Khamenei congratulates military for attack on Israel

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has thanked his country's military for their "success" after the country's first-ever direct attack on Israel from its own territory, last weekend. 

The 85-year-old leader on Sunday called upon the armed forces to "ceaselessly pursue military innovation and learn the enemy's tactics."

Iran sent a barrage of more than 300 missiles, drones, and rockets at Israel from Saturday into Sunday last week, although some 99% of these were intercepted by Israel and its allies. It was in retaliation for an airstrike on the Iranian consular building in Damascus.

Khameini said the key issue was that Iran had shown its power in attacking Israel, not the number of missiles launched or that penetrated Israel's defenses.

"How many missiles were launched and how many of them hit their target is not the primary question, what really matters is that Iran demonstrated its will-power during that operation," Khamenei said.

Iran has downplayed reports of explosions in the Isfahan region early on Friday. US media at the time cited US government officials saying Israel had told Washington that it would conduct a military operation. 

Skip next section Gazan authorities say Israeli air strike has killed 22 in Rafah
April 21, 2024

Gazan authorities say Israeli air strike has killed 22 in Rafah

Health officials in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip on Sunday said overnight Israeli strikes on Rafah killed 22 people, including 18 children.

According to the Kuwaiti Hospital, the first strike killed a man, his wife, and their 3-year-old child. The hospital said the woman was pregnant, and the doctors managed to save the baby.

News agencies cited Gaza’s civil defense agency as saying the second strike killed 17 children and two women, all from the same extended family.

More than 34,000 people have been killed in Gaza since October 7. 

Israeli leaders vowed to destroy Hamas after the group led a large-scale terror attack on October 7, during which nearly 1,200 people were killed and some 250 were taken hostage.

Skip next section 13 killed in overnight attacks on Rafah, says hospital
April 21, 2024

13 killed in overnight attacks on Rafah, says hospital

Israeli attacks overnight on the southern Gazan city of Rafah killed at least 13 people, including nine children, a hospital in the Palestinian enclave says.

Israel has carried out almost daily air strikes on Rafah, where more than half of the territory's population of 2.3 million inhabitants has sought refuge from fighting elsewhere.

The Kuwaiti Hospital said one strike killed a man, his wife and their 3-year-old child. The woman was pregnant and doctors managed to save the baby, the AP news agency reported the hospital as saying.

Eight children and two women, all from the same family, were killed in a second attack, according to hospital records.

An airstrike in Rafah the previous night killed nine people, including six children, the Hamas-run civil defense agency said.

Gaza's Health Ministry says fighting since the Hamas terror attacks on October 7 has killed at least 34,049 Palestinians in the territory and wounded another 76,901. While the ministry, also run by Hamas, does not differentiate between combatants and civilians, it claims that at least two-thirds of the dead were women or children.

The war began when Hamas and other militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern Israel and abducted around 250 hostages.

Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization in the United States, European Union and Israel.

Israeli airstrikes on Rafah raise fears of ground operation

Skip next section Israeli troops kill 2 Palestinians in West Bank confrontation
April 21, 2024

Israeli troops kill 2 Palestinians in West Bank confrontation

Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians in the occupied West Bank Sunday, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

The Israeli army confirmed the report, saying the pair were "neutralized" after attacking soldiers.

The incident took place after Palestinian authorities said Israeli forces killed some 14 people in a raid on the Nur Shams refugee camp in the north of the West Bank.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah, Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed at least 483 Palestinians in the territory since October 7.

In the same period, Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency says at least 19 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks in the West Bank.

Skip next section Israel blasts reported plan to sanction IDF battalion
April 21, 2024

Israel blasts reported plan to sanction IDF battalion

The Israeli government has responded with indignation after a report that the United States plans to sanction a West Bank unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Under the reported plan, members of the Netzah Yehuda unit — which is accused of human rights breaches — would be barred from receiving US military support or training.

A report by the US news outlet Axios said it had information from three US government sources that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would announce the sanctions within days. 

The decision is based on incidents that all took place in the West Bank and occurred before the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel, the report said. The unit was withdrawn from the West Bank in 2022.

It reportedly comes after an assessment of several IDF and police units accused of human rights violations. The other units will not be sanctioned after they remedied their behavior, Axios said.

The decision would comply with the 1997 "Leahy Law," which bans foreign aid and defense training programs for foreign security and military units that are credibly guilty of human rights violations.

"Sanctions must not be imposed on the Israel Defense Forces," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on X. 

He added that his government would oppose such measures with all possible means.

"At a time when our soldiers are fighting the monsters of terror, the intention to impose sanctions on an IDF unit is the height of absurdity and a moral low," Netanyahu wrote.

Member of the Israeli war Cabinet Benny Gantz said imposing the sanctions would send the wrong message "to our common enemies" and set a dangerous precedent.

"The 'Netzah Yehuda' battalion is an inseparable part of the Israel Defense Forces," he wrote on X. "It is subject to military law and is responsible for operating in full compliance with International law." 

Israeli forces kill 3 in West Bank hospital raid: DW's Tania Krämer

Skip next section Palestinian presidency slams US aid to Israel
April 21, 2024

Palestinian presidency slams US aid to Israel

The Palestinian presidency has condemned a US decision to approve aid for Israel as an act of aggression against its people that will lead to more violence against them.

The legislation, passed by the US House of Representatives on Saturday, also included long-awaited support for Ukraine and Taiwan. 

The $26 billion (€24 billion) package for Israel includes $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs in Gaza.

It would also include $4.4 billion to replenish defense items and services provided to Israel and $3.5 billion for advanced weapons systems.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the money represented a "dangerous escalation."

It would "translate into thousands of Palestinian casualties in the Gaza Strip" and the West Bank, said Nabil Abu Rudeina.

Several dozen progressive Democrats voted against the legislation, demanding an end to Israel's bombardment of Gaza, which has killed thousands of civilians.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the bill "demonstrates strong bipartisan support for Israel and defends Western civilization."

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the vote would send a strong message to Israel's enemies.

"The vote on the Israel aid package with an overwhelming bipartisan support proves the strong ties and strategic partnership between Israel and the US, and sends a strong message to our enemies," Katz posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. "I hope it passes the Senate soon with strong bipartisan support."

rc/nm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)