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U.S. Citizens In Gaza Urged To Depart Immediately

The United States has strongly warned its citizens against travel to the Gaza Strip. In a Travel Warning update on Wednesday, the State Department cautioned them that with the exception of Jericho and Bethlehem, personal travel to the West Bank by U.S. government employees is prohibited.

The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip,which is under the control of Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization. It advised U.S. citizens in Gaza to depart immediately. The security environment within Gaza, including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and volatile. Exchanges of fire between the Israel Defense Forces and militant groups in Gaza take place regularly, and civilians have been caught in the crossfire in the past. Although the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt allows for some passenger travel, prior coordination with local authorities -- which could take days or weeks to process -- is generally required, and crossing points may be closed for days or weeks. Travelers who enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing must also exit through the Rafah crossing, and those entering the Gaza Strip may not be able to depart at a time of their choosing. The State Department has made it clear that because U.S. citizen employees of the U.S. government are not allowed to enter the Gaza Strip or have contact with Hamas, the ability of consular staff to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens is extremely limited.

Over three million foreign citizens, including hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens, safely visit Israel and the West Bank each year for study, tourism, and business. The Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority make considerable efforts to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations. Nonetheless, U.S. citizens have been advised to take into consideration that U.S. government personnel are not permitted to use public buses due to past attacks on public transportation and that U.S. government personnel must notify the Embassy's Regional Security Officer before traveling in the areas surrounding Gaza and south of Beersheva, as well as to the Golan Heights. Furthermore, U.S. government personnel are restricted from conducting personal travel to most parts of the West Bank.

Travelers to areas of Israel in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip have been asked to be aware of the risks presented by small arms fire, anti-tank weapons, rockets, and mortars launched from inside Gaza toward Israeli cities and towns.

Due to the sporadic, unpredictable nature of the Syrian conflict in these areas, U.S. government personnel must notify the Embassy's Regional Security Office in advance if they plan to visit the Golan Heights.

The Department of State urged U.S. citizens to exercise caution when traveling to the West Bank, as demonstrations and violent incidents can occur without warning, and vehicles are regularly targeted by rocks, Molotov cocktails, and gunfire on West Bank roads.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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