DeSantis says U.S. should not accept refugees from Gaza

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CRESTON, Iowa — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said Saturday that the United States should not accept refugees from the Gaza Strip, where Israel has demanded that more than 1 million residents evacuate the northern portion of the territory as it wages war on the militant group Hamas.

“If you look at how they behave, not all of them are Hamas, but they are all antisemitic,” DeSantis said as he campaigned in Iowa for the GOP presidential nomination — referring to the Gaza-based Palestinian militant group whose surprise attack in Israel last week triggered war. “None of them believe in Israel’s right to exist.”

The war between Israel and Hamas has become a major issue in the GOP presidential race in the past week, with some candidates looking to underscore their staunch support of Israel. Several Republican contenders, including DeSantis, also have rebuked former president Donald Trump with more forthright sharpness over the issue, criticizing Trump for faulting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and calling another group attacking Israel “very smart.”

DeSantis has focused heavily on the conflict in the past week and opened his stump speech in Creston, Iowa, on Saturday morning discussing it. Turning to the matter of refugees, he told voters that “Arab states” should take in people from Gaza and added, “You don’t fly people and import them into the United States of America.”

Israeli officials have warned more than 1 million Palestinians to leave the northern Gaza Strip as the Israeli military responds to Hamas with airstrikes and prepares a ground assault seeking to end the militant group’s rule in the territory. At Gaza’s southern edge, Egypt has resisted opening it’s border to refugees from Gaza because of potential political fallout and security risks, and the United Nations has objected to Israel’s mass-evacuation order as unworkable.

As governor, DeSantis has directed the state government to help fly Florida residents out of Israel and deliver supplies, as some major passenger airlines halt service. The federal government also is working to fly Americans out of the conflict zone. DeSantis said passengers on Florida’s first flights out of Israel are expected to arrive on Sunday.

DeSantis also has used the attacks by Hamas — which the U.S. has designated a foreign terrorist organization — as an opportunity to press for further restrictions on migrants coming across the U.S. border with Mexico.

“I’ve said publicly many times prior to [these] terrorist attacks against Israel: There will be a terrorist attack in this country that we’ll be able to link to that southern border,” he said Saturday.

Trump, meanwhile, has claimed without providing evidence that the “same people that raided Israel” are crossing the southern border “at record numbers.”

Alex Nowrasteh, who has studied crime and immigration data at the Cato Institute, testified before Congress recently that nine foreign‐​born terrorists entered the country illegally from 1975 to last year but said that only three of those people crossed the U.S. border with Mexico.

Meryl Kornfield contributed to this report.

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