Israel ups West Bank forces before Palestinian UN bid

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JERUSALEM: Israel has boosted its army presence in the West Bank ahead of a Palestinian recourse to the UN amid fears they may resort to the International Criminal Court over Jewish settlements, reports said on Friday.


Public radio reported the build-up and the daily Yediot Aharonot said three battalions of reservists — some 1,500 personnel — have been mobilised and units already in the occupied territory have been reinforced.

The move comes ahead of expected Palestinian demonstrations as their statehood bid looms at the United Nations on September 23, public radio said.

General Avi Mizrahi, the commander of central Israel which includes the West Bank, has issued strict orders to the military to act with restraint and avoid bloodshed if trouble erupts, Yediot Aharonot said.

It said troops in the Palestinian territory have been armed with anti-riot equipment including tear gas to enable them to control any protests without having to resort to live ammunition.

The military is also reported to have boosted its presence around Jewish settlements in the West Bank, both to protect them and to prevent attacks on Palestinians by extremist settlers.

Officials said one Palestinian and an Israeli settler were wounded on Friday in clashes in the village of Kusra in the northern West Bank.

Around a dozen settlers tried to enter Kusra but were stopped by residents who feared they were about to be attacked and began beating them, Palestinian officials said.

One settler pulled out a pistol and shot a Palestinian in the leg.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said the clash happened in a disputed area outside Kusra between residents and people from the nearby settlement of Esh Hakodesh.

She said the wounded Israeli had been stabbed and confirmed a Palestinian had been shot.

Settlers have said they plan to march on Palestinian cities if the Palestinians hold protest marches around settlements during their UN membership bid, settler leaders said on September 7.

"We will leave our communities and march peacefully towards Palestinian towns — Hebron, Ramallah or Nablus," said Yaakov Katz, a far-right member of the Israeli parliament.

Two days later, vandals sprayed graffiti on the walls of a mosque and a university in Birzeit near Ramallah in attacks suspected to have been carried out by Israeli settlers.

Palestinian security officials told AFP that "Death to the Arabs" and slogans insulting the Prophet Mohammed were painted in Hebrew.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas was to address his people on Friday ahead of next week’s bid for UN membership.

The Israeli Haaretz reported on Friday that Israeli officials fear the Palestinians may launch legal action against Jewish settlements if their bid for upgraded UN status bears fruit.

It reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had on Thursday told EU and US envoys of his concerns about a possible Palestinian recourse to the International Criminal Court in The Hague over the settlers issue.

It said the premier expressed his fears at meetings with US, EU and Quartet envoys holding talks with Israel and Palestinian leaders in an effort to get them back into direct peace talks that stalled a year ago.

The Palestinian bid for UN membership is strongly opposed by both Israel and the United States, who say the only route to a Palestinian state is through bilateral negotiations.

Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev refused to comment to AFP on Netanyahu’s meetings with the foreign envoys.

A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a Palestinian ICC recourse "would be worrying, given that it would demonstrate that they seek to perpetuate conflict instead of seeking peace."

But the official also believed that "Israel has little to worry about in this case as it has not ratified the Treaty of Rome recognizing the authority of the ICC, and is not therefore bound to implement its rulings."


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