A general view of houses in the Israeli Settlement Given Zeev in the West Bank, on Feb. 17. The United States on Tuesday announced a new policy to impose visa bans on those accused of committing violence in the occupied region. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 6 (UPI) -- The United States said it will ban Israeli settlers accused of committing violence in the occupied West Bank, unveiling a new and rare punitive policy against Israel at a time the Biden administration has voiced unwavering support for its war against Hamas in Gaza.
U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters during a press conference Tuesday that the visa bans were being enacted and that they expect dozens of people and their family members to be barred from entering the United States under the new policy in the coming days.
The restrictions target those involved in committing violence against people or property and restricting civilians' access to essential services and basic needs in the occupied West Bank, he said.
Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territory and the establishment of settlements there are widely viewed as illegal under international law, and has attracted the repeated criticism and condemnation of the United Nations and the wider international community.
During the Biden administration, the United States has repeatedly criticized Israel over the destabilizing actions it has taken in the occupied West Bank, saying it threatens the establishment of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Violence committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank has been an issue of concern for the Biden administration for months, but has surged since Hamas' bloody surprise attack on Oct. 7 that ignited a full-fledge war between the militant group and Israel.
Since 1,200 Israelis were killed in Hamas' initial attack, Israel has launched incessant air strikes and a ground invasion on the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, resulting in a growing death toll that has reached nearly 15,900, 70% of whom are women and children.
The United States have voiced staunch support for Israel's war in Gaza, but has also continued to raise issue with violence in the occupied West Bank.
In late October, President Joe Biden described extremist settlers who continue to attack Palestinians in the West back as "pouring gasoline on fire."
"They're attacking Palestinians in places that they're entitled to be, and it has to stop," he said in a press conference. "They have to be held accountable."
The State Department said the new policy will allow it to also impose visa bans against Palestinians who committed the same crimes against Israelis in the West Bank.
The announcement comes on the heels of Israel being admitted to the United States' visa-free travel program in September. The Biden administration then fast-tracked the start of the visa program in October after the start of the war.
Miller explained citizens of countries participating in the United States' visa-free travel program still need to apply through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, and the applications of those banned from entry to the United States under the new policy will be rejected.
If there are any individuals already in the United States affected by the new policy, they will be notified that their visas have been revoked, he said.
"We will continue to seek accountability for all acts of violence against civilians in the West Bank, regardless of the perpetrator or the victim," State Secretary Antony Blinken said in a statement.
"We also continue to engage with the Israeli leadership to make clear that Israel must take additional measures to protect Palestinian civilians from extremist attacks."