Jewish settlers broke into an Israeli army base in the occupied West Bank over night and vandalized it following rumors that soldiers were going to evacuate some illegal settlements, the military said on Tuesday.
“These are criminals, Jewish terrorists who are harming the security of Israel,” Israel Civil Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Army Radio.
In a separate incident, a group of hardline settlers crossed into a military zone close to the border with Jordan during the night to demonstrate against Jordanian protests over an Israeli decision to shut a footbridge at Jerusalem’s holiest site, Reuters reported.
They broke into the Qasr al-Yahud site, where Christian tradition holds that Jesus was baptized, inside a military zone along Israel’s border with Jordan.
Security forces intervened to get them out of the area.
The incidents were a sign of escalating tensions between the army and hardline nationalist settlers, who believe they have a biblical birthright to live wherever they want in the West Bank -- land the Palestinians claim as theirs.
Israeli Army Spokesman Yoav Mordechai told Army Radio there had been a string of “grave incidents” in the West Bank after rumors spread of an imminent eviction of settlement outposts.
“Dozens of right wing activists threw stones at Palestinian and Israeli army vehicles,” Mordechai said, after which they entered an army base, “cursed, threw paint bottles, punctured army vehicle tires and smashed a car window.”
The settlers had also thrown stones at a senior army commander. A police spokesman said one settler was arrested and that police hoped to find more of the attackers.
Mordechai said he thought the incursion next to the Jordan border and the subsequent attack on the army base near the Palestinian city of Nablus were connected.
“I don’t believe in coincidences. I think that to mobilize over 100 people takes organization. ...We will not allow such disturbances with people taking the law into their own hands,” he said.
It was the latest in a slew of revenge attacks by settlers, which for the most part targeted Palestinian and Arab property, including mosques, but which has also been directed at leftwing Israeli activists and the military.
These so-called “price-tag” attacks, usually carried out in response to measures against settlements, have been condemned by Israeli leaders, but the Palestinians say little action has been taken to prosecute those responsible, according to AFP.
Palestinian officials responded angrily to news of the ramp’s closure after the Jerusalem municipality ordered it shut, saying it was unsafe and at risk of collapse or catching fire.
Muslim leaders say the demolition could have a destabilizing effect on the mosque compound and accuse Israel of failing to coordinate the renovation with the Waqf, which oversees Islamic heritage sites.
“This is a serious step that shows the Zionist scheme of aggression again the al-Aqsa mosque,” Fawzi Barhum told AFP. “This is a violent act that amounts to a declaration of religious war on the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.”
Some 300,000 Israelis live in the West Bank, which the government calls by its biblical name, Judea and Samaria.
The territory was captured in a 1967 war and is home to 2.5 million Palestinians. The World Court views settlements Israel has built in the areas as illegal. Israel disputes this, but has not sanctioned all the outposts that dot the land.
The army’s main task in the West Bank is defending the settlers from Palestinian locals.