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Canada considers sanctions on settlers in West Bank over violence

Israeli troops stand guard near a shooting scene in Hebron

By Ismail Shakil and Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada is looking at imposing sanctions on "extremist" settlers in the West Bank, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday, a day after U.S. action against four Israeli men accused of being involved in violence in the occupied territory.

"We are looking into how to make sure that those responsible for extremist violence or extreme settler violence in the West Bank are held to account for it," Trudeau told reporters in Waterloo, Ontario.

Since the 1967 Middle East war, Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River, which Palestinians want as the core of an independent state. It has built Jewish settlements there that most countries deem illegal. Israel disputes this and cites historical and biblical ties to the land.

The West Bank had already seen its highest levels of unrest in decades during the 18 months before Hamas's Oct. 7 attack on Israel, and confrontations there have risen sharply since Israeli forces launched their retaliatory offensive on Gaza.

"Violence in the West Bank is absolutely unacceptable and puts at risk peace, stability in the region and the path towards the two state solution that is absolutely essential," Trudeau said.

Trudeau's comments add to signs of the West's growing displeasure with the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order that aims to punish ill-behaved Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians envisage a future state.

Britain, the European Union and more than a dozen partner countries including Australia and Canada have called on Israel to take immediate and concrete steps to tackle settler violence in the West Bank.

Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The Israeli assault on the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip in response has killed over 27,000, according to Gaza's health ministry and flattened most of the densely populated enclave.

Trudeau has consistently said Israel has the right to defend itself after the Hamas assault, but has gradually hardened his tone as the civilian death toll in Gaza has mounted.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil and Steve Scherer in Ottawa, editing by Deepa Babington)