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EU reaches 'political agreement' to sanction Israeli settlers: Borrell

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EU reaches 'political agreement' to sanction Israeli settlers: Borrell

After weeks of disagreements, the European Union has reached a “political agreement” to sanction extremist Israeli settlers, says Josep Borrell.

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The breakthrough occurred during a meeting of the bloc’s foreign affairs ministers on Monday, where the issue was put on the table to give diplomacy a new chance.

“We discussed about the sanctions (on) Hamas. And we agreed on sanctions on extremist settlers. It was not possible last Foreign Affairs Council. This time has been possible. A solid compromise has been agreed at the working level and I hope this will continue until full adoption soon,” the bloc’s foreign policy chief announced at the end of the meeting. “But the political agreement is there.”

The sanctions have been in the works for months and were initially held up by a handful of countries, including Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria, who are among the bloc’s staunchest supporters of Israel.

But the devastation wrought across the Gaza Strip and the continued reports of violence perpetrated by Israeli nationals against Palestinians injected a sense of urgency into the talks, which further deepened after the United States, the United Kingdom and France went ahead and sanctioned a handful of extremist settlers.

The final roadblock was Hungary, which, according to diplomats, communicated last week that it would lift the opposition, raising hopes for a breakthrough on Monday.

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The political agreement still requires a final adoption by ambassadors before entering into force. Settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law and are considered a major obstacle to achieving a durable peace under the two-state solution.

The sanctions are “about specific people who have been identified as responsible for violent acts,” Borrell told reporters, confirming the restrictions will consist of a travel ban and the freezing of assets owned in EU territory. “What else can we do? We always sanction individuals and organisations in the same way.”

Asked about the names of the blacklisted settlers, Borrell added: “Like the Quixote would say, I don’t want to remember.”

The decision was part of a careful diplomatic choreography to coincide with fresh sanctions against Hamas, which the bloc considers a terrorist organisation.

In reaction to the attacks of 7 October, which killed over 1,100 civilians in Israel, the EU established a dedicated sanctions regime to target any individual or entity suspected of supporting, materially or financially, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

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Six financiers were added to the blacklist on 19 January.

‘Open-air graveyard’

Monday’s meeting of foreign affairs ministers took place as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) released a new report showcasing the extreme gravity of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where more than 31,000 people have been killed since the start of the Israeli offensive.

According to the IPC, “the entire population in the Gaza Strip (2.23 million) is facing high levels of acute food insecurity,” with half the population under the category of catastrophe. In the northern section of the enclave, famine is “imminent.”

The military conflict, the scarcity of humanitarian aid and the limited access to food supplies, healthcare, water and sanitation are all factors behind the deterioration.

“The escalation of hostilities has caused widespread damage to assets and infrastructure indispensable to survival. About 50 percent of buildings – and more than 70 percent in the northern governorates – have been damaged or destroyed,” the report says.

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Before heading into the meeting, Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, painted a grim picture of the situation on the ground.

“Gaza was before the war the greatest open-air prison. Today it is the greatest open-air graveyard. A graveyard for tens of thousands of people, and also a graveyard for many of the most important principles of humanitarian law,” Borrell told reporters.

Borrell also said he would propose a “political orientation debate” about the future of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which has been in force since 2000. Last month, Spain and Ireland, two of the bloc’s most critical voices against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, joined forces and called for an “urgent review” of the agreement.

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But during the ministerial meeting, at least six member states came against the review: Germany, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Hungary, several diplomats told Euronews, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Borrell admitted convening a formal Association Council with Israel would be “certainly complicated” and lacked “strong support.” A more practical idea would be to invite Israel’s foreign affairs minister, Israel Katz, to the next meeting in Brussels.

The invitation, Borrell added, should also be extended to the new prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mohammad Mustafa.

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This article has been updated with more information.

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TVLine Items: ID’s Nick and Aaron Carter Docuseries, Outlander Prequel Cast Additions and More

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TVLine Items: ID’s Nick and Aaron Carter Docuseries, Outlander Prequel Cast Additions and More


Nick and Aaron Carter Docuseries ‘Fallen Idols’ Release Date



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Russia sinks space nuke ban at UN amid rumors of Putin's orbital weapon

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Russia sinks space nuke ban at UN amid rumors of Putin's orbital weapon

A U.S.-led resolution that would prevent using nuclear weapons in outer space received dozens of co-sponsors, but Russia vetoed the measure amid reports it has deployed a weapon that can destroy satellites. 

“The detonation of a nuclear weapon in space would destroy satellites that are vital to communications, agriculture, national security, and more worldwide, with grave implications for sustainable development, and other aspects of international peace and security,” the U.S. Mission to the United Nations wrote in a press release prior to the vote. 

“The diverse group of cosponsors of this resolution reflects the strong shared interest in avoiding such an outcome,” the statement read. “We join these Member States in calling on the Security Council to meet this moment today and adopt the resolution unanimously, consistent with its mandate to maintain international peace and security.”

The U.S. and Japan presented the resolution to the U.N. Security Council for a vote on Wednesday, but Russia shot the measure down. Prior to the vote, Russia’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky reported that his country’s initial impression was that the resolution served as “yet another propaganda stunt by Washington” and called it a “very politicized” effort “divorced from reality,” The Associated Press reported. 

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The draft resolution, which received backing from 60 member states, states that “the prevention of an arms race in outer space would avert a grave danger for international peace and security.” It affirms that countries that ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty must comply with their obligations.

A Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, March 22, 2024. (Getty Images)

The tug-of-war over hypothetical space-based weapons follows claims from the White House in February that Russia had deployed a “troubling” anti-satellite weapon – though no one has yet confirmed the weapon is operational or even in a testing phase. 

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The weapon would allegedly be capable of destroying satellites by creating a massive energy wave when detonated, Foreign Policy reported. The weapon could therefore potentially cripple countless other satellites that serve both commercial and government purposes, including cellphone use and internet access.

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Russia United Nations

Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s permanent representative to the U.N., attends a Security Council meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York City on April 14, 2024. (Fatih Aktas/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Russia at the time argued that it would uphold the international 1967 treaty, which bans the deployment of “nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction” into orbit or the stationing of “weapons in outer space in any other manner.” 

“Our position is quite clear and transparent: we have always been and remain categorically opposed to the deployment of nuclear weapons in space,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in February. “Just the opposite, we are urging everyone to adhere to all the agreements that exist in this sphere.”

US Ambassador Green

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., attends the Security Council meeting to demand an immediate cease-fire in Gaza on March 25, 2024, in New York. (Fatih Aktas/Anadolu via Getty Images)

However, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu cryptically added at another time that Russia has only developed space capabilities that “other nations, including the U.S., have.” 

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U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres later warned that “geopolitical tensions and mistrust have escalated the risk of nuclear warfare to its highest point in decades.”

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Russian rocket lifts off

Russia’s Soyuz-2.1a, carrying the Soyuz MS-25 spacecraft, was successfully launched from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur spaceport on March 23, 2024, according to TASS News Agency. (Roscosmos/Ivan Timoshenko/Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Putin, throughout the conflict with Ukraine, has dangled threats of nuclear weapons. He said that “from a military-technical point of view, we are, of course, ready,” when asked in March about a potential nuclear war. 

Putin has used the threat of nuclear weapons in Ukraine as a means of preventing more direct intervention from the U.S. and other NATO allies, repeatedly stressing that any deployment of troops or similar more direct moves against Russia would be viewed as intervening in the war. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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What do newly approved anti-money laundering rules cover?

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What do newly approved anti-money laundering rules cover?

EU lawmakers voted in a landslide in favour of new curbs on crypto, football clubs and cash transactions.

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EU lawmakers today voted 482 to 47 to set up a long-promised EU anti-money laundering agency, as part of a package that would also see large cash payments banned across Europe.

The move – taken by MEPs at their last voting session before June elections – means new rules apply for football deals and crypto transactions, as the bloc seeks to repair its reputation after a series of financial-sector scandals.

“Dirty money finances terrible crimes,” EU financial services commissioner Mairead McGuinness said, adding that there was an “absolute imperative to improve significantly on the current situation”.

Those views seemed largely shared across the political divide – including by Damien Carême (France/Greens), one of the MEPs who led negotiations.

Terrorists and fraudsters “exploit the loopholes in European legislation”, Carême told lawmakers. “We have to act decisively to ensure a robust system.”

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What do new EU money-laundering rules do?

New rules include a limit on professional traders accepting or paying cash for any transaction over €10,000 – given that big wads of untraceable banknotes can send alarm bells over financial crime.

Some lawmakers claim that’s an attack on financial freedom.

“Keep your hands off our cash and our digital currencies,” Patrick Breyer of the German Pirate Party told lawmakers. “We Pirates say no to this creeping financial disenfranchisement.”

Yet one of the most touchy subjects of the complex package has been geographical: the question of where to house a new EU anti-money laundering agency.

After a first-of-a-kind 12-hour public hearing, German financial centre Frankfurt won out, from a slate of candidates that also comprised Paris, Rome, Madrid, Vienna, Riga, Vilnius, Brussels and Dublin.

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Its 400-odd staff will directly supervise dirty-money controls at 40 of the bloc’s biggest financial institutions.

Expanded scope of new anti-money laundering laws

EU money laundering laws already apply to big institutions like banks, who are required to verify who their customers are, and report suspicious transactions to the authorities.

Those rules will also apply to high-risk sectors like traders in artwork, jewellery and luxury yachts. They’ll be extended to cover innovative services like cryptocurrency providers—as lawmakers are concerned bitcoin and other, even more anonymous assets can be used for illicit payments.

At MEPs’ insistence, the measures apply to major football clubs and agents – given the large amounts of sometimes dubious money that circulates between them.

More consistent rules

For the first time ever, the EU’s rules are set out in a regulation that will apply more or less consistently across the bloc.

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That means less discretion for each country to tweak rules for the national context – creating discrepancies that make it harder for legitimate businesses to operate across borders, and easier for criminals and terrorists to exploit the system.

A separate money laundering directive, also agreed today, resolves issues over how journalists and activists can trace the financial structures used to hide wealth.

Arrangements were thrown into disarray by a shock 2022 EU court judgment that restricted access to company ownership registers on privacy grounds.

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Why does the EU need new anti-money laundering rules?

Officials hope the new rulebook will help improve the EU’s reputation for dirty money, closing the chapter on a series of scandals.

Two EU members – Croatia and Bulgaria – currently sit on a “grey list” of suspect money laundering jurisdictions compiled by international standard-setter the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), and Malta was only recently taken off it.

The region also faced a series of financial-sector scandals involving institutions such as Danske Bank, Latvia’s ABLV, and Malta’s Pilatus bank.

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Danske was fined billions of euros by US and Danish regulators in 2022, after admitting that around €200bn was laundered through its Estonian arm between 2007 and 2015.

EU talks were given extra salience by the need to enforce sanctions imposed on Russia for its war in Ukraine – given fears that ultra-wealthy oligarchs can use shady financial structures to evade curbs.

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When will new EU money laundering rules take effect?

New anti-money laundering controls have been a long time coming, and it’s still not over.

Valdis Dombrovskis berated uneven enforcement and promised to examine a new EU agency in his hearing to become EU financial services commissioner as far back as October 2019.

After several last-minute wrangles, lawmakers and governments announced a tentative deal on the bulk of the law in January 2024.

Once nodded through by national ministers, much of the new regulation kicks in after three years, but there is some flexibility.

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Rules for the football sector will take five years to apply, and the new EU agency could start work later this year – though the law setting it up takes effect formally in July 2025.

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