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U.S. alters travel warning after complaint by Israeli government

From Elise Labott, CNN Senior State Department Producer
  • State Department revises a travel warning after Israel objects
  • Original warning cited Israeli resort of Eliat, but not Jordan's Aqaba next door
  • Revised version urges U.S. travelers to southern Israel to be aware of risks
  • Israel

Washington (CNN) -- The State Department has revised a travel warning for Israel after the Israeli government protested on the grounds it unfairly singled out an Israeli resort area.

"Clearly, a particular country made its feelings known on this issue," State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley acknowledged Wednesday. "In retrospect, perhaps we did not have as vigorous a review of the proposal as was appropriate."

The initial travel warning issued last week was replaced Tuesday with a new version that dropped a reference to Eilat, the Red Sea resort town hit by rocket fire on August 2.

The original warning had urged Americans visiting Eilat to find out where bombs shelters are located. However, it included no such warning for the neighboring Jordanian town of Aqaba, which also suffered rocket attacks last week that killed one person.

The omission prompted complaints by the Israeli Tourism Ministry that Eilat was unfairly singled out.

"Differentiating Israel from its neighbor that actually suffered loss of life is improper and lacks balance," the Tourism Ministry said in a statement. "This advisory gives a prize to terror and undermines regional stability and the sense of security that Israel gives to everyone who enters the country."

In response, the State Department put out a revised warning Tuesday that removed the Eilat reference, saying instead that Americans in southern Israel "should be aware of the risks and should follow the advice of the Government of Israel's office of Homefront Command."

Crowley had initially dismissed the Israeli protest, saying Tuesday that travel warnings are based on "our best judgment of the assessment of risk wherever American citizens are traveling."

"So I would say that it's not our judgment that the risk is identical between the two locations," he said Tuesday.

On Wednesday, though, Crowley defended the shift, saying that U.S. embassies in Jordan and Israel decided to handle warnings about the rocket attacks differently.

Upon review, the State Department decided to handle the Eilat incident the way the embassy in Jordan dealt with the Aqaba attack, Crowley said. It issued a "warden message" to American citizens in the area, rather than a full-blown "travel warning" posted on the main State Department web site.

"Normally, travel warnings reflect a broader trend, as opposed to one particular incident," Crowley said, noting that the State Department hasn't changed its assessment of the risk to Americans traveling to Eilat.

Noting the "similar set of circumstances being treated different ways by neighboring countries," Crowley said the appropriate way to communicate possible risk was through a warden message, not a travel warning.