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Israel Defense Forces troops operating in the West Bank have scaled back patrols and anti-terror operations in order to provide security to the government inspectors distributing construction freeze orders in the settlements.

In the two weeks since the freeze was introduced the army has taken pains to ensure that police and Border Police officers are the only security forces dealing with the settlers in this matter, including handling public disturbances, despite the fact that it is the IDF's Operations Branch that is responsible for it.

IDF soldiers have been called in to staff checkpoints and positions that are typically staffed by Border Police officers. Moreover, IDF troops have been sent to back up Border Police units dispatched to thwart retaliatory acts by settlers against Palestinians for the freeze (the so-called price tag policy). Authorities are concerned that Palestinian terrorists could use the opportunity to wage an attack.

"We're hardly doing any offensive operations actions or patrols beyond the minimum required," one officer said. "Nonetheless, we are now required to carry out many more missions than those originally planned for us."

Security forces are seeking to make it harder for West Bank local councils to carry out new construction, having decided to grant entry permits only to Palestinian construction workers employed at building sites approved by the Civil Administration.

Most settlement homes are built by Palestinian workers who need Civil Administration authorization to enter Jewish communities in the West Bank. The Civil Administration intends to instruct local councils and security officers to only grant authorization to those workers employed at sites where construction has been allowed despite the freeze.

Security dilemma

The Civil Administration's instructions have created a problem for security officers charged with patrolling settlements, as technically they are local council employees but they are paid by the Defense Ministry and often consult with the IDF operational brigades.

Last week the security officer of the Beit Aryeh local council participated in a protest against the construction freeze and used his security vehicle to block the inspectors' passage.

The commander of the regional brigade ordered the vehicle confiscated; the officer will be summoned to a hearing within several days.

Acting on government orders the security forces seek to present a united front over enforcement of the freeze. The new directives are being reported to representatives of the United States.

Since the building suspension was ordered Civil Administration inspectors have distributed freeze orders at more than 40 settlements and outposts. In most cases, settler resistance to the order was confined to the borders of the community, but in the past few days there have been a number of "price tag" retaliatory acts against Palestinians and their property. On Friday, a group of settlers from a settlement in the southern Hebron Hills attempted to attack on a Palestinian vehicle. They were dispersed by police officers on patrol nearby.