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Booking.com issues West Bank warning

Online reservation platform Booking.com
— Jerusalem (AFP)

Online travel agency Booking.com has added warning banners to both Israeli and Palestinian properties in the occupied West Bank, the company said Saturday, under a new policy on conflict zones that Israel hailed as a "victory".

"Please review any travel advisories provided by your government to make an informed decision about your stay in this area, which may be considered conflict-affected," the company's website now says, in searches for accommodation in Jewish settlements or Palestinian localities.

The update comes as tensions see near-daily arrests and clashes in the West Bank, resulting in the deaths of dozens of Palestinians, many of them armed militants.

The warning, which went live on Friday, does not appear on properties in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem or Golan Heights, both territories which like the West Bank were seized in the 1967 Six-Day War.

According to Booking.com, similar messages have appeared for months on properties in breakaway northern Cyprus, while Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia were included in the latest update, with plans to "roll out banner notifications in more than 30 regions over the next few months".

The warnings are "to ensure that customers have the information they need to make informed decisions about destinations they are considering, which may be categorised as conflict-affected areas and which may pose risks to travellers," Bookings.com said in a statement.

Israel hailed the move to not distinguish between Israeli and Palestinian properties in the West Bank a "diplomatic achievement", saying the company's original intention was to designate Israeli settlements only as "occupied territory" and visits there as a "high risk to safety and human rights".

"We thank Booking.com for changing its decision," Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement that credited the foreign and tourism ministries for a "discrete and effective dialogue" with the company that had brought about the change.

"Israel won an important victory in the battle against delegitimisation," he said.

The West Bank warning was lauded by Human Rights Watch (HRW) as a "welcome step towards informing consumers that they are renting homes in occupied territories".

But Omar Shakir, its Israel and Palestine director, said the fact that Booking.com operated at all in the West Bank constituted a "contribution to serious rights abuses".

"The company should stop brokering rentals in illegal settlements in places like the occupied West Bank," he said in a statement.

HRW has been pressuring international companies to cease their West Bank operations.

In 2019, online accommodation booking platform Airbnb announced it would remove listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but it reversed the decision as it battled lawsuits in Israel and the United States.

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