Clashes in West Bank Injure Palestinians

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JERUSALEM -- Violent clashes broke out on Tuesday between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in a village in the northern West Bank, leaving up to 30 Palestinians injured, after an undercover Israeli force entered the village to arrest a wanted militant, according to Palestinian news reports and the Israeli military.

The military said two soldiers were wounded, neither seriously, by rocks thrown by Palestinians. A spokeswoman for the Israeli military, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under army rules, said the purpose of Tuesday's raid on the village, Tamoun, was to arrest a resident, Murad Bani Odeh, who she said was suspected of being a terrorist. Both the military and Palestinian reports identified Mr. Odeh, who was captured by the Israeli forces, as a member of Islamic Jihad, an extremist organization.

In the raid, an undercover force, reportedly disguised as vegetable merchants, entered the village first. When youths started throwing stones and a violent riot broke out, regular forces came in and dispersed the crowd with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas. The military spokeswoman denied Palestinian reports that the soldiers also used live fire.

The confrontation was the latest manifestation of the simmering unrest and disturbances that have spread across the West Bank since mid-November, when Israel embarked on a fierce eight-day military campaign against the rocket-launching infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, controlled by the militant group Hamas.

It also comes after years of stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, an issue that has re-emerged in recent days as an Israeli election issue, with Israelis scheduled to go to the polls on Jan. 22.

The fate of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem -- territories that the Palestinians claim for a future state -- is always a core, if sometimes underlying, issue for Israeli voters. Until now, the leaders of the two largest political forces, the rightist Likud-Beiteinu joint ticket and the center-left Labor Party, had mostly avoided the subject, aware of public fatigue and skepticism about the prospects of a peace deal and preferring to refocus the debate onto security and socioeconomic issues.

But the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, a veteran politician who is now supposed to stay out of politics and play a mostly symbolic role, intervened in the election campaign on Sunday, telling a large group of visiting Israeli ambassadors that he considered the president of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to be a partner for peace.

"No one will change my opinion about Abu Mazen," he said in broadcast remarks, referring to Mr. Abbas by his popular name, "even if they say I cannot express it because I'm the president." Israel, he added, "must complete the task of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians without further delay."

The remarks infuriated Likud-Beiteinu, which issued a sharp statement condemning Mr. Peres for expressing what it called a "personal political opinion that is disconnected from the Israeli public's stance regarding Abu Mazen, the peace refusenik."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Likud-Beiteinu, who has endorsed a two-state solution under certain conditions, responded on Tuesday with a statement that called for extreme caution and an Israeli foot on the brakes.

"In Egypt, the regime has been replaced, in Syria the regime is being shaken and this could also happen in the Palestinian Authority areas in Judea and Samaria," he said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names. "Everyone knows that Hamas could take over the Palestinian Authority," he continued. "It could happen after an agreement; it could happen before an agreement, like it happened in Gaza. Therefore, as opposed to the voices that I have heard recently urging me to run forward, to make concessions and to withdraw, I think that the diplomatic process must be managed responsibly and sagaciously and not in undue haste."

There has been a palpable rise in incidents of stone-throwing and firebombing by Palestinians against Israeli vehicles on West Bank roads, and an increase in localized clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and soldiers, according to Israeli officials. On Monday night, the military said, an Israeli civilian bus traveling south of Hebron was shot at. There were no injuries.

The spike in unrest comes after four years of relative stability in the West Bank, and it has led some Israeli commentators to speculate about the chances of a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Israeli and Palestinian officials say privately that they have no evidence of plans for a full-blown uprising, though nobody could rule out a spontaneous outburst triggered by some unforeseen incident. Mr. Abbas has stated publicly that he will not support an armed uprising on his watch.

In the meantime, the Israeli military says it has been trying to balance proactive counterterrorism measures -- like widespread arrests of militants belonging to Hamas and other armed groups -- with a policy of restraint when faced with rioters, to try to prevent Palestinian fatalities and a subsequent spiral of violence.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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