Israel asks citizens to leave Maldives after island’s ban on Israeli nationals

Israel has advised its citizens to leave the Maldives after the government of the Indian Ocean archipelago announced a ban on entry of Israeli nationals amid the war in Gaza.

The Maldives government on Sunday announced that the cabinet would change laws to prevent Israeli passport holders from entering the nation.

The Mohamed Muizzu government said it would establish a subcommittee to oversee the process and appoint a special envoy to assess the Palestinian needs and launch a fundraising campaign.

The announcement prompted the Israeli foreign ministry to advise Israeli nationals, including those with foreign passports, against travelling to the islands. The ministry has also urged those living in the archipelago to leave.

“For Israeli citizens already in the country, it is recommended to consider leaving, because if they find themselves in distress for any reason, it will be difficult for us to assist,” Israel's foreign ministry said in a statement.

A total of 528 Israel nationals have visited the Maldives in the first four months of this year, dropping from 4,644 during the same period in 2023, according to Maldives government data.

Nearly 11,000 Israelis visited Maldives last year, which accounted for 0.6 per cent of the total tourist arrivals.

Earlier in December, Israel warned its citizens against visiting Maldives due to "increased anti-Israel sentiment" following prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offensive on Gaza.

The warning was issued “due to the heightened anti-Israel atmosphere, including public comments by officials", according to Times of Israel.

While both nations do not have diplomatic ties after they were suspended in 1974, Israelis have been allowed to visit the picturesque island since it lifted its ban on Israeli tourists in the 1990s.

Israeli authorities on Monday took to social media to urge citizens to visit India’s Lakshadweep islands as an alternative to the Maldives.

“Thanks to the Maldives Government’s decision Israelis can now explore the beautiful beaches of Lakshadweep,” Kobbi Shoshani, the counsel general of Israel to Mumbai, wrote in a post on X.

“Since the Maldives is no longer welcoming Israelis, here are some beautiful and amazing Indian beaches where Israeli tourists are warmly welcomed and treated with utmost hospitality,” shared an X account aimed at promoting Israel-India ties.

Meanwhile, The Israeli military has said the body of a presumed hostage was found in a community near the Gaza border that Hamas militants attacked on 7 October.

Dolev Yehud, 35, was thought to be among scores of hostages held in Gaza until Monday, when the military announced the discovery of his body. They said he had been killed in the initial attack.

Israeli bombardments and ground operations in the besieged territory have killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza's health ministry.

The country launched its war in Gaza after Hamas's 7 October attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel and killed some 1,200 people – mostly civilians.