The U.S. Department of State increased its travel advisory to “Level 3,” which urges American citizens to “reconsider travel” to Israel after Hamas attacks that started over the past weekend.
In a bulletin Wednesday, the agency said the upgraded advisory applies to Israel and the West Bank region. A travel advisory for Gaza still remains at Level 4, or “Do Not Travel.”
The alert cited terrorism and civil unrest as reasons not to travel to Israel or the West Bank, while it cited terrorism, civil unrest, and armed conflict for Gaza.
“Terrorist groups, lone-actor terrorists, and other violent extremists continue plotting possible attacks in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza,” it said.
“Terrorists and violent extremists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities.”
The bulletin added that “violence can occur in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza without warning” and that “there has been a marked increase in demonstrations throughout Israel, some with little or no warning.”
But with Gaza, the U.S. State Department cannot provide “routine or emergency services” to American nationals in the restive region—coming in the midst of a heavy bombing campaign initiated by the Israeli government after Hamas’s surprise attacks over the past weekend.
Some reports have indicated that the bombing is the most extensive that Israel has carried out in Gaza in its history. Public broadcaster Kan said the Israeli death toll had risen to more than 1,300, with most being civilians gunned down in their homes, on the streets, or at a dance party. Scores of Israeli and foreign hostages were taken back to Gaza; Israel says it has identified 97 of them.
Israel has responded so far by putting Gaza, home to 2.3 million people, under total siege and launching by far the most powerful bombing campaign in the 75-year history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gaza authorities said more than 1,400 Palestinians have been killed and more than 6,000 have been wounded, Reuters reported.
Egypt, which has a single border crossing with Gaza, has stated it was trying to allow in aid to the region.
“Hamas, a U.S. government-designated foreign terrorist organization, controls the security infrastructure in Gaza,” the State Department’s bulletin noted. “The security environment within Gaza and on its borders is dangerous and volatile. Sporadic mortar or rocket fire and corresponding Israeli military responses may occur at any time. During periods of unrest or armed conflict, the crossings between Gaza with Israel and Egypt may be closed.”
It also noted that U.S. government officials in Israel and the West Bank are restricted from personal travel, noting that the U.S. Embassy in Israel could impose a higher degree of travel restrictions in the near future if the situation on the ground deteriorates further.
Several major U.S. airlines have canceled flights to and from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv in recent days due to the escalating fighting. American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines confirmed to news outlets that they suspended service as the U.S. State Department issued travel advisories.
“We continue to monitor the situation with safety and security top of mind and will adjust our operation as needed,” American Airlines said, adding that service to Tel Aviv is suspended until Friday.
United Airlines said its service to the airport is suspended until further notice. Meanwhile, Delta said its flights to Tel Aviv are canceled until Oct. 31, about three weeks from now.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a news conference, pledging support to the Israeli state.
“You may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself. But as long as America exists, you will never ever have to. We will always be there by your side,” the U.S. secretary said.
Meanwhile, in a sign of things to come, Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz wrote there would be no exceptions to the siege without freedom for Israeli hostages.
“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electrical switch will be lifted, no water hydrant will be opened and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli hostages are returned home. Humanitarian for humanitarian. And nobody should preach us morals,” Mr. Katz posted on social media platform X, formerly called Twitter.
At the same time, Syrian officials said that Israel launched simultaneous missile attacks on the airports in its capital Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo on Thursday, damaging the runways and putting both hubs out of service.
A Syrian military official told state news agency SANA said the “Israeli enemy” hit the two airports at the same time, rendering them “out of service.” The Israeli Defense Forces hasn’t commented on the claim.
Israel’s next move could be a ground assault on Gaza. No decision to invade has yet been made “but we’re preparing for it,” military spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Hecht said.