Two of the Hamas terrorists on the US blacklist had been reluctantly freed by Israel in exchange for captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
The United States put three senior members of Hamas, a senior commander and two leaders freed by Israel in exchange for captive soldier Gilad Shalit, on its terror blacklist Tuesday.
The State Department said Yehia Sinwar and Rawhi Mushtaha along with the Palestinian group’s military commander Mohammed Deif had been named “specially designated global terrorists” under US law.
“He is known for deploying suicide bombers and directing the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers,” the State Department said in a statement announcing his new designation.
“During the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas, Deif was the mastermind of Hamas’ offensive strategy.”
Hamas denounced the decision as “immoral and against international law” on its Twitter account, accusing Washington of “backing Israeli terrorism.”
Separately, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said blacklisting senior figures would not stop the group “from succeeding in our national duty of protecting our people and liberating Palestine.”
As “global terrorists,” the three Palestinian figures are subject to the seizure of any assets they hold in areas of US jurisdiction and Americans are forbidden from doing business with them.
The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip enclave, is regarded as a terrorist organization by both the United States and Israel.
The Al-Qassam Brigades are its armed wing and regularly fire rockets into Israel.
Deif, a veteran of the Palestinian struggle, has long been a target for Israeli assassination, and in August last year his wife and son were killed in an air strike.
Sinwar and Mushtaha were named to the Hamas political bureau in Gaza in 2012, a few months after they were among 1,027 prisoners freed by Israel in exchange for Shalit.
Deif was targeted in an Israeli airstrike last August during Operation Protective Edge, and though his death remained unconfirmed and Israel refused to share its’ assessment – with Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz stating in a recent interview that he “estimates he is around, somewhere” – Fox News reported shortly after the airstrike that Israeli military intelligence believes Deif was killed.
Hamas fiercely denied that Deif was killed ever since the original airstrike. As soon as the day after the strike, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri reiterated that Deif was still “calling the shots” in Gaza.
Born in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in southern Gaza in 1965, Deif has been involved in Hamas’s operations for more than 20 years, plotting suicide bombings inside Israel, kidnapping soldiers, firing rockets and helping plan the tunnels used to launch attacks.
He was appointed head of Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, in 2002 after the death of his predecessor, Salah Shehade, in a raid.
US puts Lebanese militant Kuntar on terror blacklist
The United States also placed Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese militant notorious for the murder of three Israeli civilians including a young girl, on its terror blacklist.
Israel released Kuntar as part of a prisoner exchange in 2008, three decades after the killings, and he has since become a high-profile figure in the Lebanese armed movement Hezbollah.
In August it was reported that Kuntar, a terrorist of Druze extraction affiliated with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group, was killed in an alleged Israeli drone strike in Syria as he was recruiting fighters for the military of embattled President Bashar Assad.
The strike hit a vehicle that carried five Lebanese and Syrian militants, all of whom died in the incident.
Israel believed Kuntar operated the cell that attempted to place an explosive charge on the Israeli-Syrian border earlier this year. Israeli troops thwarted the attack, killing four members of the terror cell in the process.
Since the beginning of the bloody civil war in 2011, Israel is reported to have attacked Syrian military bases on a number of occasions, including raids reportedly targeting Iranian rockets bound for Lebanon’s Hezbollah. It never acknowledged carrying out the attacks.
Kuntar, a Druze from Lebanon, was jailed in Israel from 1979 to 2008 for his role in a brutal terror attack where a botched kidnapping attempt ended in the murder of an Israeli family. Kuntar and his cellmates also killed two Israeli policemen in separate gunfights before and after the kidnapping.
He was freed almost 30 years later, in a deal to return the bodies of Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were killed in a Hezbollah raid in the summer of 2006, an incident that triggered the Second Lebanon War.
The Druze are followers of a secretive offshoot of Shiite Islam, and made up around three percent of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million. Officials say there are 130,000 Druze in northern Israel.
(staff with AFP)
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