Bangladesh drops 'except Israel' from passport, but keeps ban on travel

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Dhaka/Jerusalem, May 23 (PTI) Bangladesh on Sunday made it clear that it has dropped the phrase 'all countries except Israel' from passport to maintain international standards of the document and there was no change in its decades-long policy of travel ban to the Jewish state.

Bangladeshi passports earlier had a clause written on them that said 'This Passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel', but the government on Saturday decided to remove 'except Israel' from the document making it valid for the entire world.

Israel welcomed Bangladesh's decision and called upon Dhaka to establish diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv for the benefit of the people of the two countries.

'Great news! #Bangladesh has removed the travel ban to Israel. This is a welcome step & I call on the Bangladeshi government to move forward and establish diplomatic ties with #Israel so both our peoples could benefit & prosper,' Deputy Director General at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Gilad Cohen tweeted.

However, hours later Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr A K Abdul Momen told the media in Dhaka that 'the changes have been made to maintain global standards.' He said that it 'does not mean that there has been a change in Bangladesh's position' regarding Israel.

Bangladesh's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that said the holders of Bangladeshi passports are still banned from travelling to Israel.

The country's position on Israel remained unchanged, the ministry said, reiterating Bangladesh's support for a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

'The attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently been drawn to a tweet issued from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel that welcomes the removal of the ban on travel to Israel on E-passports issued by Bangladesh,' the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The confusion appears to have emanated from the new booklets of E-passports, which do not contain the phrase 'all countries except Israel,' it added.

The phrase has been removed to maintain international e-passport standards and does not imply any change to Bangladesh’s foreign policy towards the Middle East, it further said.

'The ban on travel of Bangladeshi passport holders to Israel remains unchanged. The Government of Bangladesh has not deviated from its position on Israel and remains firm in its longstanding position,' the statement said.

It said that Bangladesh has condemned 'the recent atrocities inflicted upon the civilians by the occupation forces of Israel in al-Aqsa mosque compound and at Gaza'.

'Bangladesh reiterates its principled position concerning the two-State Solution of the Palestine-Israel conflict in light of the UN resolutions recognizing pre-1967 borders and East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine,' it added.

Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal earlier said they are bringing the changes to ensure that the passports meet the 'international standards'.

'No country uses the words (except Israel) anymore, not even the Arab nations,' he said.

In the Israel-Palestine conflict of eight decades, Bangladesh has all along stridently supported the Palestinians’ cause. It has never recognised the existence of Israel, and so the two countries do not have diplomatic relations.

Kamal said that the move 'does not mean that there has been a change in Bangladesh's position' regarding Israel.

The decision to change the declaration was taken more than a year ago, and it is now being implemented, according to Department of Immigration and Passports Director General Mohammad Ayub Chowdhury.

'Passports only carry important information pertaining to the holder. That applies to immigration in all countries of the world. Nothing is more important than that,” he said.

Israel has normalised its ties with the Muslim-majority UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan between September and December of 2020. PTI HM/AR NSA ZH ZH