Israel to ease entry for Palestinian-Americans under US visa waiver

Gazan-Americans will be able to fly into Israel should security criteria be met

Gaza city. The US and Israel have signed an agreement setting conditions for the visa-waiver programme. AFP
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Israel will ease entry regulations for Palestinian-Americans from the Gaza Strip, an Israeli official said on Monday, aiming to secure a long-awaited visa-waiver deal with the United States.

Gazan-Americans will be allowed to travel to the occupied West Bank via shuttle bus, from where they can cross into Jordan to access international flights, the manager of Israel's visa-waiver programme, Gil Bringer, told Reuters.

Those who satisfy Israel's security criteria will be able to enter Israel on "B2" tourist visas by September 15 and fly out of its main Ben Gurion Airport, Mr Bringer added.

The US and Israel signed an agreement last month setting the conditions for the programme, under which Israeli citizens can travel to the US for 90 days without having to apply for a visa.

Gaza was not included in the initial deal.

Under the rules, US citizens travelling to Gaza are unable to fly into Israel directly, would be limited to one trip per year and would have to apply for an exit permit to leave Gaza more than a month in advance.

Israel started its pilot scheme on July 20 by loosening a ban on Palestinian-Americans entering the country.

Palestinian-Americans with relatives in Gaza have recently spoken to The National of their disappointment at being excluded from the scheme, which some analysts described as a "punitive measure".

Israel began restricting the entry of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza and preventing them from using Ben Gurion during the Second Intifada.

Travellers of Arab and Muslim heritage are regularly profiled when entering Israel, particularly through the airport.

Palestinian-Americans travelling to the West Bank currently have to undertake a lengthy journey through Jordan to enter the occupied territory, while Gaza remains under a strict Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

The US has long hoped to join the waiver scheme, although its increasing use of deadly force in the West Bank has called into question its chances of signing a deal with Washington.

Israeli fire has killed a record number of Palestinians so far this year, with at least 211 confirmed dead, according to an AFP tally.

Most of those were killed during army raids in Jenin and Nablus, which are home to various Palestinian militant groups. A high number of children and civilians were among the victims.

Updated: August 07, 2023, 11:19 AM