US announces visa bans after warning Israel over West Bank violence

Mourners carry the body of Palestinian Ahmad Assi who was killed in an Israeli settler raid, during his funeral on December 3 (REUTERS)
Mourners carry the body of Palestinian Ahmad Assi who was killed in an Israeli settler raid, during his funeral on December 3 (REUTERS)

The US has begun imposing visa bans on people involved in violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Washington officials announced the move on Tuesday, following several appeals for Israel to do more to prevent violence there by Israeli settlers against Palestinians.

President Joe Biden and other senior US officials have warned repeatedly that Israel must act to stop the attacks, which have surged in recent months as Jewish settlements have expanded, and then spiked again since the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Last week residents said settlers raided two Palestinian communities in the north of the occupied West Bank, burning cars and clashing with residents who came out to confront them."They besieged the houses, burned the cars, pushed the car down a hill and burned it, and the soldier stood there and did not say a thing," said Mustafa Mohammad, a resident of Qarawat Bani Hassan, where a 38 year-old man was shot dead.

The Israeli military said soldiers had arrived at the scene and used riot dispersal means and live fire to break up the confrontation between residents and settlers.

It said Palestinians shot fireworks in response and an Israeli and four Palestinians were injured. The incident was being examined and had been handed over to police, it said.

The Palestinian ambulance service confirmed the death and said the funeral of the man, named as Ahmed Assi, was held on Sunday.

A new US 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.

Mr 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 were to be imposed on Tuesday and more designations will be made in the coming days, Mr Miller said.

"We expect ultimately for this action to impact dozens of individuals and potentially their family members," Mr Miller said, adding that any Israeli with an existing US 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 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.

Mr Miller said Israel had taken some steps to hold people responsible for the West Bank violence, like putting them in administrative detention, but US 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.