Israel imposes sanctions on alleged Hamas financial network

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Wednesday imposed sanctions on 20 companies and individuals operating across the Middle East that it says are involved in financing the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The sanctions are directed against what the Defense Ministry described as an international network operating “under the guise of legitimate companies” in Sudan, Turkey, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates.

The U.S. announced sanctions against many of the same entities in May. Israel and the U.S. say they are part of a Hamas-run financial network with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets.

The Islamic militant group has carried out scores of deadly attacks against Israelis over the years, and it seized control of Gaza from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority 15 years ago. Israel and Western countries consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

“We will continue to thwart Hamas’ attempts to funnel funds intended for the terrorist organization’s force buildup,” Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since the Hamas takeover, which Israel says is needed to prevent Hamas from re-arming. But the group has continued to improve its military capabilities — including the reach of its rockets — through four devastating wars with Israel.

The Palestinians and human rights groups view the blockade as a form of collective punishment of Gaza’s more than 2 million Palestinian residents.

Even as it tries to sanction Hamas, Israel has also taken steps to ease the Gaza blockade over the past year in return for calm. Those understandings with Hamas appear to have figured into the group’s decision to stay out of three days of heavy fighting between Israel and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group earlier this month.

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