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What is Israel’s Netzah Yehuda Battalion accused of?

Jerusalem: Israeli leaders said they will fight sanctions imposed on Israeli military units for alleged human rights abuses, after media reported that Washington was planning its first sanctions against the country’s armed forces.

The United States will impose sanctions on Israel’s Netzah Yehuda Battalion over its treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank, Israeli media reported.

What is the Netza Yehuda Battalion?

The Netzah Yehuda Battalion was founded in 1999 to accommodate the religious beliefs of ultra-Orthodox Jews and other religious nationalist recruits in the military.

The government created the battalion as a way for these groups to serve in the military by allowing them to maintain their religious practices, such as allowing them time for prayers and study, and through their interactions with female soldiers to limit.

What is the unit accused of?

The United States called for a criminal investigation after Netzah Yehuda soldiers were accused of involvement in the death of 78-year-old Palestinian-American, Omar Assad, who died of a heart attack in 2022 after being detained and later found left on a construction site.

A Palestinian autopsy revealed that Assad died of a stress-induced heart attack caused by abuse.

The case attracted unusual attention because of his dual citizenship, his age and a request from the United States Department of State for an investigation into his death.

The Israeli army said soldiers temporarily gagged him with a strip of cloth and tied his hands with a zip tie because he refused to cooperate.

Netzah Yehuda’s battalion commander was reprimanded and two officers were fired, but Israeli military prosecutors decided not to pursue criminal charges, saying there was no link between mistakes made by soldiers and Assad’s death.

The military advocate general said a military medical official found it impossible to determine that his death was specifically caused by the soldiers’ conduct, and that the soldiers could not have been aware of his medical condition.

There have been several other incidents in recent years, some captured on video, in which Netzah Yehuda soldiers were accused of abusing Palestinian prisoners.

The battalion operated primarily in the West Bank before being moved from the area in late 2022 following U.S. criticism. The unit recently served in Gaza.

What would the sanctions mean?

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday he has taken “a firm stand” on allegations that Israel has violated a series of U.S. laws that ban providing military assistance to individuals or security forces who commit gross human rights violations.

The Leahy Laws, authored by then-Senator Patrick Leahy in the late 1990s, prohibit providing military assistance to individuals or security forces who commit gross human rights violations and have not been brought to justice.

Blinken said an announcement could be made “very soon.”

How has Israel responded?

Israeli leaders responded angrily to reports of the sanctions.

Netanyahu on Sunday called the possibility of sanctions against the unit “the height of absurdity and a moral low point” at a time when Israeli forces in Gaza are waging a war against Hamas. He said his government would “act by all means necessary” against any move.

Benny Gantz, a minister in the country’s war cabinet, spoke to Blinken on Sunday and asked him to “reconsider the future decision.”

The Israeli army said the Netzah Yehuda Battalion is an active combat unit that operates in accordance with the principles of international law.

(Published April 22, 2024, 11:18 am IST)