A Senate bill seeking to put an end to the barbaric use of human shields by terrorist groups and their enablers should pass soon, according to one of its sponsors.
The bipartisan legislation is sponsored by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and has nearly 50 co-sponsors with 14 Democrats among them, including lead Democratic sponsor Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
Late last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee moved the “Stop Using Human Shields Act” forward. Cruz, who has a growing reputation for working with both sides of the aisle, told Fox News, “In just the last few weeks we've seen new evidence that Hezbollah is using Lebanese civilian infrastructure as military depots, while Hamas has resumed using crowds of rioters as cover.”
Cruz is confident that passage should come soon.
“I'm proud to have worked with so many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and the Foreign Relations Committee to get our human shields sanctions bill to the Senate floor," he said, "and I hope the Senate and House will vote expeditiously to send this legislation to the President to be signed into law.”
Donnelly tweeted: “The use of human shields - including by terrorist groups – is inhumane, illegal and completely disregards the sanctity of human life. I hope the full Senate will pass this legislation…”
The legislation would open the door for the administration to place additional sanctions on Hezbollah and Hamas – both on the State Department’s list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. It also would give Washington an option to sanction other groups that use human shields.
The use of human shields came to prominence again in 1990 when then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein used both Iraqi and foreign nationals as shields in an attempt to stop the U.S.-led coalition from attacking Baghdad.
Since then terrorist groups have used civilians – often women and children – as part of their terror strategies. Other groups that could be sanctioned include ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Houthis in Yemen.
Nikki Haley, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has also pushed for more to be done against the groups who use the tactic.
At a U.N. Security Council meeting on Israel and the Palestinians earlier this year, Haley urged the council to address the threat. She singled out a common U.S. foe for supporting such practices, saying:
“As usual, Iran is the patron and protector of many of these groups that fight from behind the bodies of innocent civilians," she told the council. “Groups that Iran has sponsored or supported have perfected the tactic of using human shields, and inspired others to do the same. Of course, this is part of Iran's overarching efforts to destabilize the region - efforts that include illegal weapons shipments to Yemen, and invading Israeli air space with armed drones from Syrian territory.”
To date, the Security Council has not followed through on Haley’s call for action.
Two of the bill’s main targets, Hamas and Hezbollah, enjoy major backing from Tehran. Hamas has utilized human shields as a regular tactic in its fight against Israel, using hospitals, mosques and schools as command centers and launching pads.
Most recently, Hamas has been using civilians in its “Great March of Return,” where it has mobilized thousands to protest against Israel in an attempt to break through its border fence with Gaza. In doing so, it has blended its own members in with civilians. In May, while the world’s media rounded on Israel following the death of 62 Palestinians, a senior Hamas official admitted in an interview that at least 50 of the dead were members of Hamas.
Iran’s military proxy, the terror group Hezbollah, is also in congressional crosshairs. Based in Lebanon, the group has long used civilian populations as cover for its terrorist infrastructure including storage sites for weapons and rocket launch areas, and like Hamas, it has a network of underground tunnels dug under or close to civilian populations and places of worship.
The House has already passed two similar bipartisan bills that proposed sanctioning Hezbollah and Hamas and are sponsored respectively by Republican Reps. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Joe Wilson of South Carolina. The sanctions against those groups are in the Senate version and supporters hope that it will be signed into law by President Trump once final votes are completed.