The U.S. State Department announced on Wednesday it was designating Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh as a terrorist. Haniyeh was labeled a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist," a title used to describe leaders of international terror organizations or perpetrators of mass-scale terror attacks.
Under the label, Haniyeh will not be able to visit the United States or hold assets within it and American citizens are forbidden from making any financial or legal transactions with him.
The Gaza-based militant group Hamas has been officially considered a terror organization by the United States for decades.
"Ismail Haniyeh is the leader and President of the Political Bureau of Hamas, which was designated in 1997 as a Foreign Terrorist Organization," the State Department said in a statement explaining its decision.
The statement added that "Haniyeh has close links with Hamas’ military wing and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians. He has reportedly been involved in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. Hamas has been responsible for an estimated 17 American lives killed in terrorist attacks."
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In addition to Haniyeh, who resides in Gaza and is considered one of the most prominent figures in Hamas, the State Department also announced similar designation of Iran-backed Harakat al-Sabireen, a terror group operating in the West Bank and in Gaza. The organization was founded in 2014.
"Harakat al-Sabireen has carried out terrorist activities targeting Israel, pursues an anti-American agenda, and has attracted members and supporters of [the Palestinian Islamic JIihad]. These planned and executed terrorist attacks include firing rockets into Israel in September 2015 and detonating an explosive device targeting an Israeli army patrol in December 2015."
Two jihadi terror groups operating in Egypt were also designated under the same title.
U.S President Donald Trump's special envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, visited the Gaza Strip Sunday with Major General Yoav Mordechai, Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories earlier this week. The general told Greenblatt that "the difficult situation in the Gaza Strip is a result of the policy led by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Greenblatt later posted a photo of him visiting a Hamas tunnel and tweeted: "Hamas wastes resources on tunnels & rockets to attack Israel, instead of helping the people of Gaza by getting the lights on, the water flowing & the economy growing. Hamas spews hateful rhetoric & foments a vicious cycle of violence. Gaza deserves better!"
In response, Gaza-based Hamas spokesman Hazem Kassem "The United States' decision to add Ismail Haniyeh's name to the list of terror organization leaders is a failing attempt to exert pressure on the Palestinian resistance forces. This decision won't have any effect on Hamas."
A member of Hamas' Political Bureau called the decision "ridiculous, because we, the Palestinian people, don't expect the United States to sign off on our honesty. Hamas leaders, and first and foremost Ismail Haniyeh, are ready to sacrifice their lives and all they have for the Palestinian nation and its rights. We won't be deterred by any decisions of this kind, and preserve our people's principles at all cost."
Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro said "The designation of Ismail Haniyeh is richly deserved. Hamas has never hid its commitment of using violence against civilians to achieve its aims. It has been a designated terrorist organization for years. It's appropriate that its leaders be similarly designated. This is a good decision by the Trump administration."