Amid annexation plans, US warns its citizens against West Bank travel

Embassy tells citizens to avoid Palestinian regions, where ‘violence can occur with little or no warning’; IDF official has predicted ‘wave of terror attacks’

Illustrative: Cars travel on a road in the southern West Bank (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative: Cars travel on a road in the southern West Bank (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

As Israel continues to push US-backed plans to annex parts of the West Bank in July, Washington on Thursday issued a security alert advising its citizens to execute extra caution when traveling to the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, anticipating potential violence.

The US Embassy in Jerusalem advised US citizens to “maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness.”

It warned that “violence can occur with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, government checkpoints, markets and shopping facilities or government facilities.”

“US citizens should carefully consider risks to their personal safety and security when considering visits to sites and events that are potential targets,” it added.

The alert barred US government personnel from “engaging in personal travel to the West Bank, with the exception of the portions of Route 1, Route 443 and Route 90 that traverse the West Bank.” It said they were prohibited from traveling to Gaza.

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians earlier this week warned the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff and the defense minister of a potential wave of violence if the government follows through with its plans to unilaterally annex portions of the West Bank.

Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. (Courtesy)

According to Army Radio, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun — formally known as the coordinator of government activities in the territories — told army chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz that annexation “was likely to lead to a wave of terror attacks.”

Last week, PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced that his security forces were halting coordination with Israel.

While Israeli security officials have confirmed the PA has ended security cooperation, Channel 13 reported that Ramallah had sent messages to Israel saying it would not allow terror attacks against Israelis or a mass popular uprising.

Though not widely discussed publicly, Israel’s cooperation with Palestinian security forces has been credited with thwarting many major terror attacks and being a significant factor in the relative calm in the West Bank in recent years.

The scene of a suspected car-ramming attack in the southern West Bank on May 14, 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Monday, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the PA would prevent widespread chaos and public disorder in the West Bank despite the severance of ties. Israel’s security establishment, however, fears that the Hamas terror group will exploit the escalating tensions to step up its activities in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday said he has set a July date for when Israel will extend its sovereignty over West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, and informed Likud lawmakers he had no intention of changing it.

The move would be coordinated with the US, in accordance with the Middle East plan US President Donald Trump unveiled in January, which endorsed extending Israeli sovereignty over roughly 30 percent of the West Bank.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas heads a leadership meeting at his headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 19, 2020. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool via AP)

Netanyahu’s vow to go through with annexation has led to condemnations from a growing list on countries, including Arab states such as Jordan and European nations like France and Germany.

In recent days even Trump administration officials have appeared to seek to dampen expectations that Washington will quickly green-light the move without any progress in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The State Department’s chief spokesperson said earlier this month that any action should be part of discussions between Israel and the Palestinians on the Trump administration’s peace plan.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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