By Amjad al-Nabhan
RAMALLAH/JERUSALEM (AA) - A U.S. decision to add Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh to its terrorism blacklist has drawn condemnation from Palestinian groups, while Israel has welcomed the move.
“The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) rejects and deplores the U.S. Treasury Department’s decision to include Haniyeh on its terrorism list,” Saeb Erekat, secretary of the PLO’s executive committee, said Thursday.
Erekat urged Palestinian political forces to counter the move by “eliminating the causes of internal Palestinian division… with a view to safeguarding the Palestinian national cause and thwarting the plots being hatched against it."
On Wednesday, the U.S. government dubbed Haniyeh a “specially designated global terrorist” and imposed a raft of sanctions against him.
On its website, the U.S. State Department said Haniyeh had “close links with Hamas' military wing and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians."
The U.S. Treasury Department, meanwhile, also added Haniyeh to its sanctions list, essentially freezing any U.S.-based assets he might have.
The designation also bans individuals and companies from engaging in financial transactions with the Hamas leader.
Haniyeh has been a vocal critic of U.S. President Donald Trump's decision late last year to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital -- a move that drew widespread condemnation and protest from across the Arab and Muslim world.
Washington’s recent policy decisions, Haniyeh said after the U.S. move, had served to confirm that “the U.S. administration can no longer be considered an honest broker… in the so-called peace process."
On Wednesday evening, Hamas slammed the U.S. decision to add Haniyeh’s name to the terror blacklist, saying the move had revealed the "depth" of Washington’s longstanding bias towards Israel.
“This decision reveals the depth of U.S. bias towards Israel, which has reached the level of a partnership in the aggression against our people,” Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told Anadolu Agency by phone.
The move, he added, “specifically targets the Palestinian resistance."
Qassem went on to assert that Hamas "carries out legitimate resistance against the Israeli occupation according to international custom and law."
The U.S. decision, he went on, “is a failed attempt to ratchet up pressure on the [Palestinian] resistance; but it won’t deter us from continuing the fight against occupation."
The spokesman added: “Those who should be put on the terror list are the leaders of the Israeli occupation who have committed numerous atrocities against the Palestinian people."
Israel, for its part, hailed the U.S. move.
“I welcome the decision,” Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said in a statement. “Haniyeh and his colleagues are working to promote terrorism against the state of Israel.”
Tzipi Livni, an Israeli MP for the Zionist Union Party and a former foreign minister, likewise lauded the move, describing it as the “correct decision”.
“There is no difference between the military wing and the political wing [of Hamas],” she said in a statement. “All of them are terrorists.”
Born in 1963 in the Gaza Strip, Haniyeh was exiled by Israel to Southern Lebanon -- along with scores of Hamas leaders -- in 1992.
After returning to the Gaza Strip, he became a leading aide to Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in 1997. (Yassin himself was assassinated by Israel in 2004.)
After Hamas swept Palestinian legislative polls in 2006, Haniyeh was appointed Palestinian prime minister but was sacked a year later by President Mahmoud Abbas after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip.
Since then, Haniyeh has served as the group’s leader in Gaza, which has groaned under a crippling Israeli/Egyptian blockade since 2007.