Last Updated: Wed Dec 14, 2011 12:17 pm (KSA) 09:17 am (GMT)

Israeli premier vows action against settlers who attack soldiers

Israeli soldiers detain an activist during clashes in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah. (Reuters)
Israeli soldiers detain an activist during clashes in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah. (Reuters)

Israel’s premier vowed on Tuesday to act harshly against extremist Jews who attack security forces, after radical settlers attacked an army base and stoned a senior officer.

“I will fight this phenomenon with all my force until it is eliminated,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a ceremony, in remarks relayed in a statement.

Netanyahu noted he met the heads of the security and legal establishment, and tasked them with presenting him a “heavy-handed” plan within a week to combat this “calamity.”

“I believe bad things should be stopped when they are small. This is small, and we will stop it now, and not let anyone act violently against Israeli soldiers or police,” Netanyahu said.

Early on Tuesday morning, around 50 settlers forced their way onto a key army base in the northern West Bank, stoned the jeep of a senior officer and vandalized military vehicles following rumors troops were about to evacuate settlement outposts, the military said.

Several hours earlier, some 30 settlers broke into a Christian baptismal site in a closed military zone along the Jordanian border to stage a protest.

An army statement said the early morning attack had targeted the Ephraim base near the northern town of Qalqilya.

“Overnight, approximately 50 rightwing activists infiltrated the Ephraim regional division headquarters, set fire to tires and damaged vehicles with stones, bottles of paint and by placing nails on the road,” it said.

“In addition, rocks were thrown at the Ephraim regional division commander’s vehicle. The commander was not injured,” it said, condemning the attack.

Police said two people were arrested after the attack which came amid rumors reportedly circling in the settler community that troops were poised to dismantle several outposts set up without government permission.

In the earlier incident, settler activists broke into the Qasr al-Yahud Christian baptismal site along the Jordan border to protest against Muslim opposition to the closure of a controversial ramp leading to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Seventeen people were detained for questioning, police said.

The two incidents were the latest in a slew of revenge attacks by settlers, which for the most part targeted Palestinian and Arab property, but have also been directed at leftwing Israeli activists and the military.

These so-called “price-tag” attacks, usually carried out in response to steps against settlements, have been condemned by Israeli leaders, but the Palestinians say little action has been taken to prosecute those responsible.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak lambasted the perpetrators for their “nefarious actions” which he said had no place in Israeli society.

“These activities have the characteristic of homegrown terror and will not be tolerated. The defense minister has instructed the IDF to act with resolve in all of its efforts to curb this worrying bout of activity,” he said in a statement.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni said the incidents were symptomatic of the “radicalization” of Israeli society with “the tacit agreement and a wink from the Netanyahu government,” while Home Front Security Minister Matan Vilnai called it a case of Jewish terrorism.

“These are criminals, Jewish terrorists who are attacking the security of Israel... They are fighting the IDF which is protecting them,” Vilnai told army radio.

The army urged local council heads and rabbis in the settler community to take a stand against such incidents.

“Violence that targets the IDF and its soldiers... is seen as extremely severe.”

Danny Dayan, head of the Yesha settlers council, also spoke out against the violence, calling it “unacceptable, shameful” in a statement which also said those responsible “must be arrested and brought to justice.”

It was not the first time settlers have targeted the army. Two months ago, settlers attacked a group of soldiers on patrol near Ramallah in an incident which was also reportedly linked to rumors that troops were about to dismantle an unauthorized settler outpost.

A month earlier, 13 army vehicles were vandalized and sprayed with Hebrew graffiti in an attack just days after troops dismantled three structures in the nearby Migron outpost.

The move sparked an angry response from both Netanyahu and Barak, who vowed to apprehend the perpetrators.

So far, no one has been arrested.

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