Israeli settlers said to cut trees, burn fields
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Israeli settlers and Palestinian villagers threw stones at each other Tuesday, a day after Palestinian officials said settlers burned dozens of acres (hectares) of agricultural land and cut down several hundred olive, fig and almond trees.
The latest friction came at a sensitive time, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas saying he is determined to seek U.N. recognition this week of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in 1967. Israeli security forces fear the U.N. bid could spark violence in the West Bank.
Many settlers are adamantly opposed to Palestinian statehood, and some settler activists planned protest marches in three West Bank locations later Tuesday.
“This is our land and no Palestinian state will be (established) here,” said organizer Boaz Haetzni, a resident of the Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron, the West Bank’s largest Palestinian city.
Abbas plans to seek U.N. membership for a Palestinian state after addressing the General Assembly on Friday. Israel and the U.S. are opposed.
Israel has prepared for the possibility of mass marches in the Palestinian territories in connection with the recognition bid.
However, there have been few signs of enthusiasm in the West Bank. Students and civil servants are to be bused to rallies planned Wednesday in Ramallah, in an apparent attempt by authorities to ensure a high turnout.
Only about two dozen people watched Tuesday as Palestinian activists unveiled a six-meter-high (20-feet) chair, painted in the U.N’s signature baby blue, in the main square of the city of Ramallah. The chair, with the inscription “Palestine’s right — Full membership in the United Nations,” symbolizes the quest for recognition.
Abbas’ West Bank-based Palestinian Authority said Tuesday that there have been more than 40 reports of settler violence in the past month, and that the rate doubled in the past year.
On Tuesday, residents of the militant settlement of Yitzhar in the northern West Bank gathered on a hilltop overlooking several Palestinian communities and shouted slogans, said Qassem Saleh, a resident of the village of Assira al-Kibliya. Palestinian villagers arrived, and the two sides started throwing stones, he said. The Israeli military arrived, the settlers withdrew and troops began aiming tear gas at the Palestinians, he said.
The military confirmed there had been a clash, and said troops were trying to separate the two sides.
On Monday, a farmer in the village of Deir Istiya discovered that several hundred of his olive, fig and almond trees had been cut down, said the mayor, Nazmi Salman. The village is ringed by three Israeli settlements, and villagers have set up patrols to protect their property, he said.
Late Monday, assailants burned several dozen acres (hectares) of agricultural land near the village of Einabous, said the mayor, Nafez Rashdan. He said the fire damaged olive and almond trees, as well as wheat and barley fields.
There was no claim of responsibility, but militant settlers have engaged in such attacks in the past in retaliation for attempts by the Israeli military to remove parts of unauthorized settlement outposts.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said he was not aware of attacks near Einabous and Deir Istiya.