U.S. punishes Israeli extremists accused of blocking, ransacking humanitarian aid for Gaza

The Biden administration Friday took the unusual step of blacklisting a group of Israelis implicated in the looting and destroying of life-saving humanitarian aid destined for Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip after eight months of brutal war.

It is only the second time in recent years the U.S. has punished Israeli groups for their violent and sometimes deadly actions against Palestinians.

Last year, the State Department announced it was banning U.S. entry to dozens of Jewish Israeli settlers who attacked Palestinian villagers in the West Bank, destroyed their properties and attempted to seize their land.

Several hundred Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed in recent months in these attacks as well as in operations by the Israeli military.

The latest U.S. measure targets a group known as Tzav 9, Hebrew for “Order 9,” a reference to call-up orders for Israeli reservists. U.S. officials say the group has ties to extremist Jewish settlers in West Bank settlements.

“For months, individuals from Tzav 9 have repeatedly sought to thwart the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, including by blockading roads, sometimes violently, along their route from Jordan to Gaza, including in the West Bank,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement. “They also have damaged aid trucks and dumped life-saving humanitarian aid onto the road.”

They have also burned aid trucks, he said. “We will not tolerate acts of sabotage and violence targeting this essential humanitarian assistance,” Miller said.

With negotiations for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war still unsuccessful, the inability of international organizations to get food, water and medicine into Gaza has deepened the suffering there, with more than one million Palestinians facing starvation. Aid agencies report that children are dying from malnutrition, and hundreds of people are dying from lack of medical care. Most hospitals have been rendered inoperable due to Israeli bombardment.

Israel last month closed the Rafah crossing on Gaza’s border with Egypt, a principal entry point for aid. The U.S. military built a pier into Gaza’s coast for aid deliveries, but it has been plagued by high seas and other problems that have limited its ability to deliver aid.

Tzav 9 claims it is stopping “gifts” from reaching Hamas, the militant group in Gaza whose attack on kibbutzim and a musical festival in southern Israel on Oct. 7 left nearly 1,200 Israelis and others dead and triggered the current war.

At times Israeli extremists have filmed themselves in the act of blocking trucks, destroying cargo and dumping aid in the road.

More than 36,000 Palestinians – many civilians – have been killed by Israel’s air and land operations in Gaza as of May 31.

It is not clear what impact the new sanctions will have on the group. The measures bar members of the sanctioned group from financial transactions with American persons or entities, and may impede their travel to the U.S. Any assets they have in the U.S. would be frozen.

The State Department also called out the Israeli government, noting it was Israel’s “responsibility to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian convoys transiting Israel and the West Bank en route to Gaza.

Friday’s action comes in part in response to an urgent plea from Jordan, which has been supplying most of the targeted aid trucks. Jordan has been able to dispatch up to 40 trucks a day to Gaza. It is a tiny fraction of what aid workers say is the bare necessity.

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