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BRUSSELS: France, Germany and Italy called for the European Union to set up a special sanctions scheme to target Hamas as EU foreign ministers met on Monday to consider possible next steps in response to the Middle East crisis.

Among the possible measures up for discussion at the meeting are a crackdown on Hamas’ finances and travel bans for Israeli settlers responsible for violence in the West Bank.

In a letter to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the foreign ministers of the bloc’s three biggest countries said it was important the EU take “all necessary measures against Hamas and its supporters”.

“This implies a stronger European commitment both to combating Hamas’ infrastructure and financial support, and to isolating and delegitimising Hamas internationally, which in no way represents the Palestinians or their legitimate aspirations,” said the letter, seen by Reuters.

EU adds two top Hamas commanders to ‘terrorist list’

Hamas is already listed by the European Union as a terrorist organisation, meaning any funds or assets that it has in the EU should be frozen.

It was not immediately clear from the brief letter the details of how sanctions would be broadened or tightened. If EU members agreed in principle, the next step would be for experts to draw up the legal framework to figure out which individuals or entities would be targeted.

The EU said on Friday it had added Mohammed Deif, Commander General of the military wing of Hamas, and his deputy, Marwan Issa, to its list of terrorists under sanction. It is also considering adding Hamas Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar to the list, according to diplomats.

The letter said a separate sanctions scheme targeting Hamas would send a “strong political message” about the EU’s commitment against Hamas.

West Bank

Such a scheme was one of a number of options outlined in a discussion paper from the EU’s diplomatic service.

Battles rage across Gaza as UN holds rare vote

France, Germany and Italy have already been pushing such a scheme behind the scenes but the letter from France’s Catherine Colonna, Germany’s Annalena Baerbock and Italy’s Antonio Tajani increases pressure on other EU countries to back it.

Senior EU officials such as Borrell have also expressed alarm at rising violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The paper suggests an EU response could include bans on travel to the EU for those responsible and other sanctions for violation of human rights. The issue was not mentioned in the joint letter to Borrell, which spoke of “our solidarity with Israel”.

France said last month the EU should consider such measures and Colonna told reporters on Monday that Paris was considering domestic sanctions against such individuals.

Israel, Hamas engage in fierce clashes in southern Gaza

A Belgian government spokesperson has said Belgium will seek to add violent settlers to the Schengen information database to deny them entry.

Diplomats said it would be hard to achieve the unanimity necessary for EU-wide bans, as countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary are staunch allies of Israel.

But some suggested a decision last week by the United States, Israel’s biggest backer, to start imposing visa bans on people involved in violence in the West Bank could encourage EU countries to take similar steps.

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