US announces visa restrictions on Israel settlers attacking Palestinians

Secretary of State says Washington has consistently warned against settler violence and that Israel needs to do more to hold perpetrators accountable

A Jewish settler scuffles with a Palestinian demonstrator in the West Bank city of Hebron. AFP
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The US State Department on Tuesday announced restrictions on visas for extremist Israeli settlers who have engaged in violence against Palestinian civilians and their property in the occupied West Bank.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US has consistently spoken out against settler violence and that the Israeli government needs to do more to hold perpetrators accountable.

“Today, the State Department is implementing a new visa restriction policy targeting 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,” Mr Blinken said in a statement.

“Immediate family members of such persons also may be subject to these restrictions.”

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have reported a sharp rise in violence from extremist Israeli settlers in recent months, as settlements expand under the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The violence has surged since October 7, when Israel launched a full-scale war on the Gaza Strip in response to an attack by Hamas, which killed 1,200 people.

President Joe Biden has staunchly supported Israel's war on Gaza, a military campaign by air, land and sea that has killed about 16,000 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians.

Amid international calls for a ceasefire and condemnations over the high death toll, the Biden administration has in recent days stepped up calls for Israel to reduce civilian casualties as it expands its offensive into southern Gaza, where most of the enclave's residents were ordered to go.

Meanwhile, Mr Biden and other senior officials from his administration have repeatedly called on Israel to do more to stop the violent attacks in the West Bank.

The UN says Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank have more than doubled since the war began and about 1,000 Palestinians have had to flee their homes.

UN figures also show that least 246 Palestinians, including 65 children, have been killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the war broke out, with eight Palestinians shot by settlers.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that dozens of people are expected to be affected by the new policy.

"The department is pursuing initial action against individuals pursuant to this visa restriction policy today," Mr Miller said.

He said more names will be added to the list in coming days.

The announcement comes after Israel was admitted into the Visa Waiver Programme, which allows its citizens to enter the US without having to apply for a visa.

Mr Miller said the people targeted by the new actions would not be eligible to enter the US under the programme and any prior visas would be revoked.

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Updated: December 06, 2023, 5:43 AM