(CNSNews.com) – The Trump administration has designated the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, as a “specially designated global terrorist” (SDGT), targeting the head of a violent Palestinian group that has been trying to clean up its image.
Hamas called the move a “dangerous violation of international law” and said it would not deter the group from “liberating its land and holy places.”
Specially designated global terrorist designation takes place under executive order 13224, a post-9/11 tool designed to disrupt funding to terrorists. Americans are prohibited from engaging in transactions with SDGTs, and any assets they may have in the U.S. are frozen.
Haniyeh’s designation was first announced Wednesday by Nathan Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, while addressing a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
“Haniyeh is the president of Hamas’ political bureau,” he said. “He’s also closely tied to the group’s terrorist operations, including attacks on Israel citizens. Haniyeh has been a member of Hamas since the 1980s and he rose through the ranks in large part by continually championing terrorism against Israel.”
Sales noted that as recently as last month, Haniyeh called for a new uprising (intifada) against Israel. Haniyeh issued the call after President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“His calls for a renewed intifada just last month underscore how important today’s designation is,” Sales said.
“We will not be distracted by Hamas’ efforts to obscure its true and bloody nature.”
Last year, the terrorist group – an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and a beneficiary of Iranian and Turkish support – launched a new political program in a bid to improve its international image.
Many media outlets at the time noted favorably that the document drew a distinction between Jews and “Zionists” as the enemy – a supposed concession since Hamas’ 1988 founding charter refers repeatedly to Jews as the enemy.
Some media also reported that Hamas had dropped longstanding calls for Israel’s destruction, although the document in fact explicitly endorsed “armed resistance” to “liberate” what Hamas calls all of Palestine.
“Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea,” it said, referring to territory that encompasses all of Israel as well as the disputed territories.
Responding to Wednesday’s designation of Haniyeh, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the move was further proof of “American bias” toward Israel, providing “cover” for Israeli crimes and encouraging the targeting of the “symbols” of the Palestinian people.
Barhoum also called the decision a “dangerous violation of international law” under which, he said, the Palestinians have “the right to defend themselves and to resist the occupation and to choose their leadership.”
He said Hamas believes the timing of the U.S. move shows that it is trying to combat Hamas’ leadership as it works to “abort” Trump’s yet-to-be-unveiled “deal of the century” Middle East peace plan.
Hamas has been a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization since 1997 and an SDGT since 2001. It seized control of the Gaza Strip from Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization a decade ago. (Hamas and Fatah have negotiated numerous “unity” agreements over the years since, most recently late last year.)
Haniyeh, formerly Hamas’ “prime minister” in Gaza, succeeded Khaled Meshaal as the group’s overall leader (“president of the political bureau”) last year.
The State Department said in a statement later Wednesday that Haniyeh “has close links with Hamas’ military wing and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians.”
Hamas’s “armed struggle” has over the years taken the form of suicide bombings, shootings, stabbings and rocket attacks from Gaza that have left hundreds of Israelis dead. Americans are among its victims too – at least 17, according to the State Department.
According to the House Oversight subcommittee on national security, as of early 2016, at least 64 Americans had been killed by Palestinian terrorists since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.
Although that count covers victims of all Palestinian terror groups, Hamas has been the most violent since Oslo. Attacks included suicide bombings through the second half of the 1990s and the early years of this century, with targets including restaurants, buses and a university cafeteria.
The State Department on Wednesday also announced SDGT designation for three relatively new terrorist groups operating in the region.
They are Harakat al-Sabireen, an Iranian-backed group formed in Gaza in 2014; and Liwa al Thawra and Harakat Sawa’d Misr (HASM), two Muslim Brotherhood offshoots formed in Egypt in 2016 and 2015, and held responsible for attacks including bombings and assassinations.