WASHINGTON, Nov. 4 (JTA) — The State Department has agreed to freeze the assets of a number of groups identified as terrorist organizations, widening the scope of the fight against terror to include organizations that target Israel.
The decision places Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine on a par with the Al Qaida network of Osama bin Laden, considered the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
Now, all 28 groups listed as foreign terrorist organizations are subject to the executive order President Bush signed soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, meaning that the assets of the organizations and individuals associated with them will be frozen.
Until now, only Al Qaida and five other groups were subject to the executive order.
“We do think it’s important that we have these tools, particularly if it’s enhanced tools in the new executive order, so that we can go after all terrorism, because that’s the goal of the campaign,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Several government agencies have come out with lists of terrorist groups since the World Trade Center attacks, but the State Department list will have the most effect overseas.
The Justice Department list of terror organizations, announced Oct. 31, is still being finalized. In any case, it would only affect domestic monitoring and deportation.
The FBI list, announced earlier this fall, is used only for investigative purposes.
Boucher said he was confident that Middle Eastern countries would work to curtail the actions of anti-Israel terror groups.
Israeli and Jewish leaders hailed the State Department decision, saying it is a sign that the Bush administration is not differentiating between terror against U.S. civilians and attacks against Israelis.
“Terrorism is terrorism,” said Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington. “There can be no distinction between blood and blood.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee commended the Bush administration for “deciding to aggressively go after all forms of terrorism,” spokeswoman Rebecca Needler said.
Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations say government officials they met last week were sympathetic to their calls to add anti-Israel groups to the terror list. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, said he believes lawmakers and Bush administration officials are beginning to understand that the web of terrorist groups is interconnected.
“By leaving gaps in one of these groups, you leave a venue for others to channel their support,” Hoenlein said.
Meanwhile, a U.S. diplomat closely involved with Middle East affairs on Friday called on Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to confront Palestinian organizations listed as terrorist organizations.
“It is in Chairman Arafat’s fundamental interests — not Israel’s, not ours, but his — that he act decisively to confront these elements,” David Satterfield, a deputy assistant secretary of state, said in an address to the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine. “In the absence of such concrete steps it is very difficult to establish the credibility necessary to advance a meaningful political process.”
Satterfield said Arafat’s public image has been tarnished since the violent Palestinian uprising against Israel began more than a year ago.