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Israel says it will fight Booking.com over planned safety warning on West Bank listings

·2-min read
Israeli cabinet meeting in Jerusalem

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said on Tuesday it would fight a plan by online travel agency Booking.com to add a safety warning to listings in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which its tourism minister condemned as a politically-motivated decision.

A senior Palestinian official welcomed the move, provided it applied to Jewish settlements only.

The West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war, is among territories where Palestinians seek statehood. Most nations deem Israel's settlements there illegal. It disputes that, describing the West Bank as a Biblical birthright and defensive bulwark.

A spokesperson for Amsterdam-based Booking.com said on Monday that it planned to "display ... banners and notifications to customers related to relevant local safety considerations" for listings the West Bank, similar to current labels for Ukraine or Cyprus.

Violence in the West Bank has surged in recent months after Israel stepped up raids into the territory following a spate of deadly Palestinian street attacks in Israel.

On Tuesday one man was killed in clashes between Palestinian gunmen and Palestinian Authority security forces in Nablus which broke out after the arrest of two militants.

The Booking.com spokesperson did not provide any indication that the company, whose website describes the West Bank as "Palestinian Territory", was taking a position on the territory's status.

Still, Israeli Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov said he had written to Booking.com and threatened "diplomatic war" by his government to reverse the decision, which he condemned as "political".

He played down the possibility that the West Bank, parts of which have has seen a surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence in recent months, might be dangerous for foreign visitors.

"Millions of tourists visit Israel, including this area," he told Ynet TV. "In the end of the day, there is no problem."

The Palestinian Tourism Ministry withheld comment, saying it had not been formally informed of the Booking.com decision.

Wasel Abu Youssef, a senior official with the umbrella Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), voiced conditional approval.

"If there is such a decision, it must focus on the colonial settlements of the Israeli occupation," he told Reuters.

The spokesperson for Booking.com, a subsidiary of U.S. company Bookings Holdings Inc., said the final details and implementation date of the listings warning were still being discussed by the company.

In 2018, Airbnb said it would delist settlement properties, but backed off following protests by Israel and legal challenges in some U.S. states.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)