The US has announced a visa ban on extremists responsible for violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was taking action to target attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians.
But the top diplomat said the ban would also apply to Palestinians accused of violence.
Attacks have surged in the West Bank since the start of the war in the Gaza Strip, triggered by Hamas’s assault on southern Israel on 7 October.
US state department spokesman Matthew Miller said the ban would affect “dozens” of extremist Israelis and some of their family members. He said that laws forbid the US from naming those targeted.
The move marks the latest expression of frustration from Washington at the Israeli government’s position towards settlers. Senior far-right ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich – both settlers themselves – have previously been accused of seeking to downplay violence in the West Bank.
And in recent weeks Palestinians in the West Bank have told BBC News that Israeli settlers are using the war in Gaza as an opportunity to seize land.
More than 700,000 Jewish people live in more than 250 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. The vast majority of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, though Israel and the US dispute this interpretation.
The UN says it has recorded 314 settler attacks against Palestinians since 7 October, resulting in Palestinian casualties or damage to Palestinian-owned property. Four Israelis, including three security forces personnel, have been killed in attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank over the same period.
“We have underscored to the Israeli government the need to do more to hold accountable extremist settlers who have committed violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank,” Mr Blinken said in a statement on Tuesday. “As President Biden has repeatedly said, those attacks are unacceptable.”
The decision comes just over a month after Israel was accepted into the US Visa Waiver Program, which allows Israeli citizens visa-free travel to the US.
Individuals targeted by Tuesday’s announcement will not be eligible for the programme, according to the Associated Press news agency, and current US visa holders will have their travel passes revoked.
American passport holders are not affected by the new policy.
Reacting to the US decision, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told reporters: “There is, sadly, violence from extremists that we must condemn.”
“In a state of law, and 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, according to Reuters.
Source : BBC