US Warns Americans from Participating in Gaza Flotilla

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Reuters

US Warns Americans from Participating in Gaza Flotilla

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A general view of the Gaza Seaport March 30, 2011. (Reuters/Mohammed Salem)

WASHINGTON -- The United States updated a travel warning urging Americans to refrain from traveling to the Gaza Strip by sea and emphasizing risks, including a possible 10-year travel ban to Israel.

The new State Department travel warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, said Americans could face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by Israel. "The Government of Israel has announced its intention to seek 10-year travel bans to Israel for anyone participating in an attempt to enter Gaza by sea," the notice said.

Pro-Palestinian groups are planning a flotilla to carry humanitarian aid to Gaza, which is controlled by the militant Islamist group Hamas, and hope to sail this month. Israel plans to stop it from reaching Gaza.

Israeli officials have long argued that aid flotillas can be used as a cover to help supply weapons to Hamas, while Palestinians say the Israeli sea blockade is illegal and hurts the economy in Gaza.

The Israeli military came under fierce criticism for its assault on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla in May 2010. The State Department mentioned that incident in its travel warning.

"On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one U.S. citizen, in such an attempt," the notice said. "The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem are not able to provide consular assistance in Gaza or on the high seas or coastal waters."

Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Eric Walsh

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Travel Warning
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Bureau of Consular Affairs

Israel, the West Bank and Gaza
June 22, 2011

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, and about threats to themselves and to U.S. interests in those locations. The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to remain mindful of security factors when planning travel to Israel and the West Bank and to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip. This replaces the Travel Warning issued August 10, 2010, to update information on the general security environment and to warn against participation in any attempt to reach Gaza by sea.

The Gaza Strip and Southern Israel

The Department of State strongly urges that U.S. citizens refrain from all travel to the Gaza Strip. This recommendation applies to all U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens should be aware that as a consequence of a longstanding prohibition on travel by U.S. citizen employees of the U.S. Government into the Gaza Strip, the ability of consular staff to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens there is extremely limited, including the provision of routine consular services.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) strictly controls the crossing points between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death, arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens participating in any effort to reach Gaza by sea should understand that they may face arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the Government of Israel. The Government of Israel has announced its intention to seek ten-year travel bans to Israel for anyone participating in an attempt to enter Gaza by sea. On May 31, 2010, nine people were killed, including one U.S. citizen, in such an attempt. The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem are not able to provide consular assistance in Gaza or on the high seas or coastal waters.

From December 27, 2008, through January 17, 2009, Israel conducted a military operation in Gaza. Israel and Hamas, a State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization that violently seized power in Gaza in June 2007, declared separate truces to end the fighting. Small clashes continue to occur along the boundary of the Gaza Strip. Rockets and mortars are still fired into Israel from Gaza, and Israel continues to conduct military operations inside Gaza, including airstrikes. Israel has also declared an exclusion zone inside Gaza along its boundary with Israel and has taken lethal measures against individuals who enter it. The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza is open, but it does not operate full time, and U.S. citizens are not always able to leave Gaza at a time of their choosing.

In the past, some rockets have traveled more than 40 km (24 miles) from Gaza and landed as far north as Yavne and Gadera and as far east as Beersheva. As a result of possible military operations by the Government of Israel in Gaza and the ever-present risk of rocket and mortar attacks into Israel from Gaza, U.S. government personnel travelling in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip boundary, to include the city of Sderot, require approval from the Embassy's Regional Security Office. U.S. citizens in the area should be aware of the risks and should take note of announcements by the Government of Israel’s office of Homefront Command.

The West Bank

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to exercise caution when traveling to the West Bank. Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces are now deployed in all major cities and other limited areas within the West Bank. As a result, violence in recent years has decreased markedly throughout the West Bank. Nonetheless, demonstrations and violent incidents can occur without warning. Vehicles have also been the target of rocks, Molotov cocktails and gunfire on West Bank roads. The IDF continues to carry out security operations in the West Bank. Israeli security operations, including incursions in Palestinian population centers, can occur at any time and lead to disturbances and violence. U.S. citizens can be caught in the middle of potentially dangerous situations. Some U.S. citizens involved in demonstrations in the West Bank have sustained serious injuries in confrontations with Israeli security forces. The State Department recommends that U.S. citizens, for their own safety, avoid demonstrations.

During periods of unrest, the Israeli Government sometimes closes off access to the West Bank and those areas may be placed under curfew. All persons in areas under curfew should remain indoors to avoid risking arrest or injury. U.S. citizens have been killed, seriously injured, or detained and deported as a result of encounters with Israeli operations in the West Bank. Travel restrictions may be imposed by Israel with little or no warning. Strict measures have frequently been imposed following terrorist actions, and the movement of PalestinianAmericans, both those with residency status in the West Bank or Gaza as well as foreign passport holders, has been severely impeded. Security conditions in the West Bank can hinder the ability of consular staff to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens.

Jerusalem

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to remain vigilant while traveling throughout Jerusalem, including in commercial and downtown areas of West Jerusalem. Spontaneous or planned protests within the Old City are possible, especially after Friday prayers. Some of these protests have led to violent clashes. Travelers should exercise caution at religious sites on holy days, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Isolated street protests and demonstrations can also occur in areas of East Jerusalem, including around Salah Ed-Din Street, Damascus Gate, Silwan and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. U.S. Government employees are authorized to visit the Old City from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., but not between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on Fridays. The area of the ramparts on the city wall between Herod’s Gate and Lion’s Gate is off-limits to U.S. Government personnel at all times. The Sherover or Haas Promenade (scenic overlook) located in Armon Hanatziv is open to U.S. Government personnel during daylight hours only. Official personnel and their family members are prohibited from using public buses and bus terminals or stations.

Travel Restrictions for U.S. Government Personnel

Personal travel in the West Bank for U.S. Government personnel and their families is allowed for limited mission-approved purposes in the areas described below. They may travel to Bethlehem on weekends and holidays during daylight hours only and to Jericho on weekends and holidays; and transit through the West Bank using Routes 1 and 90 to reach the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge, or the Dead Sea coast near Ein Gedi and Masada. They also may travel north on Route 90 from the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge to the Sea of Galilee. Use of these routes is approved for transit purposes during daylight hours, with stops permitted only at roadside facilities on Highways 1 and 90. Personal travel also is permitted to Qumran National Park off Route 90 by the Dead Sea, and all areas south of Highway 1 and east of route 90 (Dead Sea area). Each transit requires prior notification to the Consulate General’s security office.

U.S. Government personnel and family members are permitted both official and personal travel on Route 443 between Modi'in and Jerusalem without prior notification between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. only. All other personal travel in the West Bank, unless specifically authorized for mission-approved purposes, is prohibited.

General Safety and Security

Israeli authorities remain concerned about the continuing threat of terrorist attacks. U.S. citizens are cautioned that a greater danger may exist around restaurants, businesses, and other places associated with U.S. interests and/or located near U.S. official buildings, such as the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem. U.S. citizens are also urged to exercise a high degree of caution and to use common sense when patronizing restaurants, nightclubs, cafes, malls, places of worship, and theaters, especially during peak hours. Large crowds and public gatherings have been targeted by terrorists in the past and should be avoided to the extent practicable. U.S. Government personnel have been directed to avoid protests and demonstrations and urged to maintain a high level of vigilance and situational awareness at all times. U.S. citizens should take into consideration that public buses, and their respective terminals are "off-limits" to U.S. Governmentpersonnel.

Two U.S. citizens were murdered in separate incidents while walking in the woods in the Beit Shemesh area near Jerusalem in the last 18 months. Israeli authorities characterized the murders as terrorist attacks.

A bomb blast near the Central Bus Terminal in Jerusalem on March 23, 2011 injured several U.S. citizens.

In the Golan Heights and West Bank, there are live landmines in many areas and visitors should walk only on established roads or trails.

Entry/Exit Difficulties

U.S. citizens planning to travel to Israel or the West Bank should read carefully the detailed information concerning entry and exit difficulties in the Country Specific Information sheet. U.S. citizens in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip are strongly encouraged to enroll with the Consular Sections of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv or the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem through the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Occasional warden messages issued by the Embassy and the Consulate General are e-mailed to registered U.S. citizens and are posted on State Department websites to highlight time-sensitive security concerns.

U.S. citizens who require emergency services may telephone the Consulate General in Jerusalem at (972) (2) 630-4000, after hours (for emergencies): (972) (2) 622-7250, or the Embassy in Tel Aviv at (972) (3) 519-7575, after hours (for emergencies): (972) (3) 519-7551.

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