U.S. labels as terrorists Hamas, Hezbollah officials released in exchanges


WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. State Department designated as terrorists four members of Hamas and Hezbollah, including three released by Israel in exchanges.

Among the three designated in statements released Tuesday was Samir Kuntar, who was released by Israel in a 2008 exchange for the corpses of Israelis killed in the 2006 Lebanon War, served 29 years in an Israeli prison. He was responsible for the death of four Israelis, including a 4-year-old girl and her father in a 1979 attack in Nahariya.

Kuntar, who was embraced by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia upon his return, was initially believed killed in July in an Israeli surveillance plane attack on the border between the Syrian- and Israeli-held Golan Heights. Subsequent reporting said that Kuntar, who Israel believed was planning attacks on Israelis, might not have been in the targeted car. The State Department’s designation suggests that U.S. intelligence has established he is alive.

Also designated were Yahya Sinwar and Rawhi Mushtaha, founders of Hamas’ Izzedine el Qassam Brigades, and Muhammad Deif, Qassam’s current commander.

Sinwar and Mushtaha were released in the 2011 exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held captive by Hamas since 2006.

The State Department noted that Mushtaha in 2015 “publicly called on Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades to kidnap more Israeli citizens in order to strike more prisoner exchange deals to free Hamas members.”

The Obama administration has told its Israeli counterparts that it will enhance the targeting of Iran-backed terrorists in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel opposes. Iran funds Hezbollah and has funded Hamas in the past.

Designating someone as a terrorist restricts the target’s ability to travel and to do business.

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