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The U.S. issues order targeting Israeli settlers who attack West Bank Palestinians

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The U.S. often criticizes Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, but it rarely takes action. President Biden has now sanctioned four Israeli settlers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank who are accused of violence against Palestinians. This comes against the backdrop of the ongoing Israeli-Hamas fighting in Gaza and efforts to work out a temporary cease-fire. For a closer look, we're joined by NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Greg, good morning.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So President Biden has issued this executive order against Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Could you just tell us what the significance of this is?

MYRE: So it's mostly symbolic, but it is symbolism that reflects this growing U.S. frustration with Israeli policies. This executive order names these four Israelis. They're accused of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. It's a chronic problem, and it's been on the rise. Our NPR colleague Daniel Estrin spoke with one of those sanctioned, Yinon Levi, who has a farm in the West Bank.

YINON LEVI: (Non-English language spoken).

MYRE: So he's saying that it's hard for him to believe this. It sounds very strange, but he'll check it out. And he says he employs 15 Palestinian workers and that he actually claims to have good relations with them. So Levi also says he has no financial assets in the U.S., no plans to travel to the U.S., so it seems it's mostly about the U.S. sending a public message of disapproval to Israel. And Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his government is dealing with this issue, though in general, his government is extremely supportive of the settlers.

MARTIN: So let's turn to Gaza now. What are the latest developments in the fighting there?

MYRE: Yeah. Israel's Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, went into southern Gaza yesterday to the city that's been the main battleground, Khan Younis. He declared Hamas forces had been defeated there, and his visit seemed to support his claim. He also said Israel will push further south all the way to the border of Gaza, specifically the town of Rafah on the border with Egypt. And this can really pose some complications because so many Palestinian civilians are crammed into southern Gaza, specifically Rafah. But Gallant certainly gave the impression the Israeli military remains on the offensive.

MARTIN: So what does this mean for these efforts to work out a temporary cease-fire in Gaza, another one?

MYRE: Yeah, Michel, there's both ongoing fighting and ongoing efforts for a cease-fire. Hamas says it's studying the proposal. We're expecting to hear from them fairly soon. This plan could include a cease-fire that might last for up to several weeks, with Hamas releasing some Israeli hostages and Israel freeing some Palestinian prisoners. Now, we should note the working assumption is that Hamas leaders in Gaza are in tunnels beneath Khan Younis or in that area. We can't independently confirm this, but it's quite possible the Hamas leaders are looking at this cease-fire plan below the city, while Israeli troops are aboveground in the city.

MARTIN: So with Israel claiming these advances, how would you describe the fighting strength of Hamas at this point?

MYRE: Hamas is still fighting back, and it's inflicting casualties on Israeli troops. The group also still has its tunnel network in southern Gaza, which allows it to ambush Israeli forces on occasion. But Israel says it has eliminated many Hamas commanders, and the group is not fighting in cohesive units. It's more small-scale guerrilla-type operations. Also, Hamas rocket attacks into Israel have dropped off dramatically. Hamas fired thousands of rockets in the early days of the war, back in October. A volley of about a dozen rockets was directed at Tel Aviv on Monday, and Israel shot them down. And I only mention this because it was the first rocket attack on the city in weeks.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Greg, thank you.

MYRE: Sure thing, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.

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