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The extremist fringe of West Bank settlers is growing, a senior officer on the Israel Defense Forces General Staff warned this week.

Though most West Bank settlers are law abiding, the officer said, recent years have seen an upswing in violent attacks by extremist settlers against both IDF troops and neighboring Palestinians.

The officer blamed individuals "formerly in positions of power, who are now unemployed and setting up all kinds of committees," for fanning the flames of radical sentiment among settlers. He did not name names, but top army officials suggested he might be referring to former Kedumim mayor Daniella Weiss.

Weiss is widely seen as a leader of the aggressive young settlers commonly termed "hilltop youth," who have come into open conflict with both the IDF and leaders of the Yesha Council of settlements.

"The West Bank today is a hothouse for weeds," the officer said. However, he stressed, most of the Jewish settlers are "normative" individuals.

Extremist settlers object to steps the army has taken this past year to ease restrictions on Palestinians, the officer said, including removing checkpoints and reducing the IDF presence in Palestinian cities.

Over the past two years, the defense establishment has taken a harder line against unruly settlers. Whereas in the past, outpost evacuations and crowd-control missions were handled by IDF soldiers, outgoing GOC Central Command Gadi Shamni instituted a policy of delegating all such missions to the Border Police, thereby sparing soldiers direct contact with settlers.

As a result, Shamni and the former West Bank Division commander, Brig. Gen. Noam Tivon, have traveled the West Bank accompanied by bodyguards for the past two years, due to threats received from settlers.

While construction continues within West Bank settlements and outposts, army officials maintain that no new outposts have been erected in the past two years.

The police's West Bank division has set up an operational headquarters to handle outpost evacuations. However, the IDF officer said, "the army has no operational plans for an extensive evacuation and hasn't received any government instructions on this matter."