A senior officer in the Israel Defense Forces Central Command said Tuesday that the past week’s violence in the West Bank “hasn’t ended yet, although its intensity dropped [Tuesday] significantly compared to recent days.”
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The IDF cites a number of reasons for the recent violent outbreaks, among them the difficult economic situation and the stagnation on the diplomatic front. Central Command officials believe that the government’s decision to transfer the January taxes collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority to the PA would have a positive effect, although the move didn’t mean that all PA employees would be able to get their salaries.
“We believe there is a connection between the PA’s stability and the ability of its security apparatuses to function and the financial issue,” the senior officer said. “Our position is consistent: Salaries should be paid.”
The officer added that the PA has “an interest at this time, in the context of the visit by [U.S. President Barack] Obama, to keep the Palestinian issue on the agenda.” This is in addition to the hunger strike by security prisoners and the death of Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat on Saturday, which sparked more confrontations in the West Bank, he said.
According to the officer, the most recent events, primarily those in the area of Rachel’s Tomb and in Beitounia, were particularly large and more violent than any similar confrontations in recent months.
There were a number of clashes between Palestinians and IDF forces on Tuesday as well, but they were less violent compared to those on Monday or over the weekend. In Jalameh in northern Samaria, some 300 Palestinians gathered and started to throw stones at IDF soldiers, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades. Near the Al-Fawar refugee camp south of Hebron an IDF soldier was lightly hurt during a stone-throwing incident, while two firebombs thrown near Hawara damaged a vehicle.
According to the senior officer, the Central Command is pleased with the way the forces are handling themselves on the ground. With regard to the wounding of two Palestinian teens near Rachel’s Tomb on Monday, the officer said, “We got through these incidents with no fatalities, which was our objective. A small number of people were wounded, primarily in those places where the level of violence was greater.”
The officer also noted that the PA has a role in the escalation. He cited the remarks by Palestinian Prisoners Minister Issa Qaraka, who said that “Israel bears responsibility for Jaradat’s death,” and “we’re talking about a war crime,” calling these statements “an unfounded and blatant accusation of torture.” Such remarks are serious and increase the tension on the ground, the officer added.
Nevertheless, the officer said that the PA security forces performed well in organizing Jaradat’s funeral on Monday, which was why it didn’t turn into a violent confrontation with the IDF.
The Palestinians plan to shut their schools in protest on Wednesday and the IDF said this measure is liable to lead to additional violent clashes. The Central Command has organized special refresher courses for officers at the level of company commander and up, dealing with the possibility of a broad escalation of the violence.
“We’re ready,” the officer said. “I don’t think that it will become totally quiet, there will still be a significant level of incidents. We have more prisoners on hunger strike, people who were released in the Shalit deal who violated the terms of their release. There are a lot of volatile triggers that could be a springboard to more violent events, and we will do all we can to make sure it really doesn’t spin out of control.”
Meanwhile, the Israel Police and the Shin Bet Security Service continue to investigate the wounding of a Palestinian by gunfire this past Saturday during clashes between settlers from the Esh Kodesh outpost and Palestinians from the village of Qusra, near Nablus. The IDF says that the settlers opened fire, not the soldiers at the scene.