- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants the Israeli government to explain restrictions on Palestinian-Americans traveling on U.S. passports in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the State Department said yesterday.

“This was brought to the attention of the secretary, and it’s something that she’s looking into and she’s going to raise with Israeli officials,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters. “There is more than a handful of these cases, and it’s something that has got our attention. Talking about American citizens here.”

Miss Rice raised the issue in a speech to the American Task Force on Palestine on Wednesday evening.

“I realize that the continuing problems of security are also a great challenge for many Palestinian-Americans living in Gaza and the West Bank — and for so many others, including many of you, who travel there often, who work for greater tolerance and understanding, and who invest your time, and your knowledge, and indeed your capital in the Palestinian territories,” the secretary said.

“People like you have a vital role to play in the Middle East, and I will continue to do everything in my power to support your good work, and to ensure that all American travelers receive fair and equal treatment,” she said.

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the consulate in Jerusalem have received numerous complaints from American citizens about recent curbs that affect their daily lives, officials said.

Some of those complaints are related to crossing between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, while others have to do with residence issues.

The first types of restrictions were imposed because of security concerns about people who go in and out of the Palestinian territories, U.S. and Israeli officials said.

Although they affect almost all Palestinians, those who are U.S. citizens argue that they should be treated differently.

“We are aware of this issue, and we are looking into it at senior levels,” an Israeli official said yesterday. “We are waiting to receive additional information from the administration.”

The State Department warned in a travel advisory in February, which it said was still valid, that “during periods of heightened security restrictions, Palestinian-Americans with residency status in the West Bank or Gaza may not be allowed to enter or exit Gaza or the West Bank, even if using their American passports.”

During her trip to the region last week, Miss Rice called on Israel to ease some travel restrictions on Palestinians and open certain crossings to help people go about their daily duties.

Many Palestinian-Americans also have been waiting for Palestinian residence permits for years. They have managed to stay there by renewing their tourist visas every three months, but now the Israeli authorities have warned them that no more renewals will be granted.

Members of the Campaign for the Right of Entry/Re-Entry, a group representing foreign passport holders in the Palestinian territories, met with the U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem, Jake Walles, last week to discuss the issue, the group said.

Meanwhile, in Damascus, the Syrian capital, exiled Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal yesterday called for a Palestinian state to be built on the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967.

“I ask Arab and Palestinian leaders to hold a summit to ask for a Palestinian state to be built,” Mr. Mashaal told Palestinian leaders during a meeting in the Syrian capital.

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