Will US sanction Israeli battalion? Netanyahu will 'fight it with all my strength'

Editor's Note: This page is a summary of news on the Israel-Hamas war for Sunday, April 21. For the latest news on the conflict in the Middle East, view our story for Monday, April 22.

Some Israeli leaders are lashing out at reported plans by the Biden administration to sanction an ultra-Orthodox Israeli combat unit that for years has faced claims of abuse against Palestinians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the intention to impose sanctions on the Netzah Yehuda Battalion as "the height of absurdity and a moral nadir."

"I will strongly defend the (Israeli military), our army and our fighters," Netanyahu said. "If somebody thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit in the IDF – I will fight this with all my powers."

Axios and the Israeli media outlet Haaretz, citing U.S. government sources they did not name, reported the battalion could be banned from receiving U.S. military assistance or training. The battalion, among other issues, was linked in the death of an 80-year-old Palestinian-American in 2022. Haaretz said the Biden administration is considering sanctions against other military and police units in Israel.

War Cabinet minister Benny Gantz asked U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to reconsider the reported plan, saying sanctions are a dangerous precedent that "sends the wrong message to our common enemies in a time of war." The State Department, which has been investigating human rights violation claims against the battalion and other Israeli units for more than a year, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said sanctions while Israel is fighting for its existence were "absolute madness."

"This is part of a planned move to force the State of Israel to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state and abandon Israel's security," Smotrich said.

But Israeli Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli dismissed the government's outrage as "yet another dose of denial and smearing, lies and covering-up the bitter reality." Michaeli described the battalion as a "regiment of ... those who see religion as an excuse to attack Arabs."

House passes aid for Israel: Ukraine, Taiwan also in package after months of fierce debate


∎ Israel's chief of staff, Major General Herzi Halevi, approved undisclosed plans for the continuation of the war at the Southern Command. The command includes Rafah, a city packed with Palestinian refugees, where Israel has long been threatening a ground invasion to international scorn.

∎ Fourteen militants were killed, 15 were arrested, "a large amount" of ammunition and explosives were confiscated and two explosives laboratories were destroyed Sunday in an operation at the Nur Shams refugee camp in the West Bank, the Israeli military said. Nine soldiers were wounded, the statement said.

∎ A Palestinian woman who attempted to stab soldiers at a checkpoint in the West Bank's Jordan Valley was "neutralized," the Israeli military said. No troops were wounded at the Beka’ot Checkpoint.

A Palestinian man wait for news of his daughter as rescue workers search for survivors under the rubble of a building hit in an overnight Israeli bombing in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 21, 2024.
A Palestinian man wait for news of his daughter as rescue workers search for survivors under the rubble of a building hit in an overnight Israeli bombing in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 21, 2024.

Netanyahu pledges to hit Hamas with 'additional painful blows'

Netanyahu addressed the Israeli nation Sunday, urging Israelis to remember their fallen heroes and wounded fighters on the eve of Passover and vowing to soon strike Hamas with "additional painful blows." Netanyahu said force is the only way to pressure Hamas to release more than 100 hostages Israel believes are still held by militants. The suffering of the hostages and their families "rends our heart and only strengthens our resolve to bring them back," he said.

"In the coming days, we will increase the military and diplomatic pressure on Hamas," he said. "This is the only way to free our hostages and achieve our victory."

Iranian leader applauds military for attack on Israel

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei lauded his military on Sunday for "minimizing costs and maximizing gains" in its retaliatory strike on Israel a week ago as tensions between the two nations appeared to be easing.

"How many missiles were launched and how many of them hit their target is not the primary question," Khamenei said Sunday while addressing military leaders in Tehran. "What really matters is that Iran demonstrated its power."

Tensions that were already high grew more dangerous three weeks ago when Israel bombed an Iranian consulate building in the Syrian capital of Damascus, killing several high-ranking Iranian military leaders. Iran struck back a week ago with its "Operation True Promise," attacking Israeli territory with more than 300 drones and ballistic and cruise missiles. Most were shot down and little damage was reported, but several days later Israel targeted the Iranian city of Isfahan. Iran said little damage resulted and seemed to dismiss the possibilty of further strikes.

Khamenei thanked the armed forces for its efforts and stressed that innovation in weapons and methods must "always be on the agenda."

Hamas condemns US funding bill for Israel

Hamas condemned "in the strongest terms" U.S. House approval of a security bill that includes $26 billion for military and humanitarian aid for Israel. The vote confirmed "the collusion and official American partnership in the extermination war" against Palestinians in Gaza, the militant group said in a statement. The bill drew negative reviews from some Democrats who want the funding tied to Israel's conduct in Gaza.

The bill goes to the Senate, where passage is expected. President Joe Biden has vowed to sign it.

Child saved from womb of dead mother after Gaza bombing

A baby girl was delivered from the womb of a Palestinian killed in Rafah as Israeli bombing intensified in the southern Gaza city, Palestinian health officials said. The baby, weighing a little over 3 pounds, was delivered by emergency C-section, was stable and was improving, Dr. Mohammed Salama said. At least 19 people, including 13 children, died when two houses were struck overnight, authorities said. Rafah is home to more than 1 million people, including hundreds of thousands who fled fled fighting elsewhere in the enclave.

"Here is the biggest tragedy − even if this child survives, she was born an orphan," Salama said.

Hamas leader's sister indicted on terrorism charges

An Israeli prosecutor has indicted an outspoken sister of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on charges of aiding a terrorist organization and incitement to terrorism, the Times of Israel reported. The indictment against Sabah al-Salem Haniyeh, 57, accuses her of sending two WhatsApp messages to dozens of her contacts, including her brother, “praising, encouraging and supporting” Hamas for its role in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed almost 1,200, resulted in more than 250 people kidnapped and ignited the war in Gaza that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians.

The state attorney asked a court to hold her until legal proceedings have concluded. She faces a total of more than 20 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

Contributing: Reuters

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Israel war updates: US may sanction controversal Israeli military unit