The Biden administration is ignoring a congressional mandate to impose sanctions on the Iranian-backed terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah for their use of human shields in combat, according to a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers.
Congress passed legislation in 2018 that requires the U.S. government to sanction every individual involved in the use of human shields, in which women and children are placed in harm's way during combat to maximize casualties. Hamas and Hezbollah routinely employ this tactic during skirmishes with Israel to make it appear as if the Jewish state is killing innocent civilians.
"Despite overwhelming evidence, the Biden administration has yet to impose sanctions—as required by law—on the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah for their barbaric use of human shields," Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) told the Washington Free Beacon. "These sanctions are long overdue and will send a strong signal that the United States will not tolerate the use of human shields."
Gallagher and a coalition of 22 lawmakers from both parties wrote to the Biden administration earlier this week to demand that it enforce the Shields Act, which mandated sanctions be applied on Hamas and Hezbollah for their use of civilians in combat, according to a copy of the letter obtained exclusively by the Free Beacon. While former president Donald Trump laid the groundwork for the law to be implemented in 2019, the Biden administration has yet to issue any sanctions on the terror groups or their leaders.
"While the U.S. government has taken other strong measures to combat Hamas and Hezbollah in recent years, it has yet to sanction Hamas and Hezbollah leaders for their use of human shields," the lawmakers wrote in a Dec. 20 letter to the Treasury and State Departments, which are tasked with implementing the law. "Imposing such sanctions would make clear the U.S. government does not tolerate the use of human shields and would encourage like-minded countries to take similar measures against this war crime. It would also augment the Biden administration's efforts to undermine Hamas and weaken Hezbollah."
During the 11-day conflict in May between Israel and Hamas, the terror group used human shields. Hamas, for instance, placed stockpiles of weapons in apartment buildings and installed a military headquarters next to a kindergarten, according to information published by the Israel Defense Forces. Rocket launchers were also found positioned in a school courtyard and near civilian structures.
"Each rocket launched at Israeli civilians from a site amongst Gaza civilians was thus a double war crime, violating the law of armed conflict prohibition on targeting civilians as well as the prohibition on using civilians as human shields," the lawmakers wrote in their letter.
In one of the most glaring examples of Hamas's use of human shields, it situated a military command post in an apartment building that housed journalists from the Associated Press and other outlets. Israel destroyed that complex after warning civilians to evacuate. The strike sparked outrage in headlines across the globe, forcing Israel to produce evidence proving that Hamas had taken over the building.
Yahya Sinwar, a Hamas leader based in the Gaza Strip who has close ties to Iran, said in May 2018 that the terror group has an expressed policy of using Palestinian civilians as human shields.
Hamas "decided to turn that which is most dear to us—the bodies of our women and children—into … a dam to prevent the racing of many Arabs towards the normalization of ties with the plundering entity," Sinwar said.
"Imposing Shields Act sanctions on Sinwar and other relevant Hamas leaders would be an important step toward countering the extensive use of human shields against the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization," the lawmakers wrote in their letter.
Orde Kittrie, a former State Department official and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, described the congressional letter as a "positive step forward" in combating Hamas's and Hezbollah's use of human shields.
"The extensive use of human shields by Hamas and Hezbollah in recent years is well documented," Kittrie said. "Imposing sanctions would make clear the U.S. government does not tolerate the use of human shields and would encourage our NATO and other allies to take similar measures against this war crime."