US announces visa bans after warning Israel over West Bank violence

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Washington (Reuters) – The U.S. on Tuesday began imposing visa bans on people involved in violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Washington officials said, after several appeals for Israel to do more prevent violence by Jewish settlers.

A new State Department visa restriction policy targets “individuals believed to have been involved in undermining peace, security, or stability in the West Bank, including through committing acts of violence or taking other actions that unduly restrict civilians’ access to essential services and basic necessities,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

President Joe Biden and other senior U.S. officials have warned repeatedly that Israel must act to stop violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. Attacks there have surged in recent months as Jewish settlements have expanded, and then spiked again since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Blinken made clear to Israeli officials during a visit last week that “they need to do more to stop extremist violence against Palestinians, and hold those responsible for it accountable,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters in a press briefing after the announcement.

Palestinian leaders must also do more to curb Palestinian attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, he added.

The first bans under the new policy would be imposed on Tuesday and more designations will be made in the coming days, Miller said.

“We expect ultimately for this action to impact dozens of individuals and potentially their family members,” Miller said, adding that any Israeli with an existing U.S. visa who was targeted would be notified that their visa was revoked.

Since a 1967 Middle East war, Israel has occupied the West Bank, 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.

Asked about settler violence in a news conference on Tuesday, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said no one besides Israeli authorities had the right to use violence.

“Israel is a state of law. The right to use violence belongs only to those who are certified to do so by the government,” he said.

Miller said Israel had taken some steps to hold people responsible for the West Bank violence, like putting them in administrative detention, but U.S. officials believe they should be prosecuted.

Washington’s move on Tuesday “does not obviate the need for the government of Israel to take its own actions and we will continue to be clear with them about it,” he said.

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