Army, police gird for possible violence amid fury over Trump plan

Extra forces sent to Temple Mount, West Bank and Gaza as tensions ramp up, though officials believe clashes will be contained; several dozen protesters dispersed near Al-Aqsa

Israeli border police secure take position while an army bulldozer clears the rubble from a road that was closed by Palestinian protesters during minor clashes in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Jan. 30, 2020. (AP/Nasser Nasser)
Israeli border police secure take position while an army bulldozer clears the rubble from a road that was closed by Palestinian protesters during minor clashes in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Jan. 30, 2020. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

Israeli forces were readying Friday for the possibility of violence amid simmering Palestinian anger over a new US peace plan, though Israeli officials believe tensions will remain below the boiling point.

The last several days have seen an uptick in low-level clashes with troops in the West Bank and increased tensions along the Gaza border, following the release of the American proposal, which Palestinian leaders have roundly rejected as one-sided toward Israel.

The army said this week they were deploying extra troops to the West Bank and along the Gaza border out of concerns of increased violence over the plan.

On Thursday, police said they would bolster a contingent of officers on and around the Temple Mount on Friday.

Israeli border police arrests a Palestinian ahead of a protest against Middle East peace plan announced Tuesday by US President Donald Trump, which strongly favors Israel, in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)

Friday morning saw some unrest at the site, with several dozen marching and chanting nationalist slogans after morning prayers. Policemen dispersed the crowd.

The army now believes any disturbances will be mostly restrained, especially since the US has put the brakes on Israel’s plans to swiftly annex chunks of the West Bank, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.

“No matter the decision by the politicians, the IDF will know how to provide security,” Operations Division head Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva told Channel 13 news Thursday. “We are ready for outbreaks of violence in any area. We’ve bolstered the number of battalions in the West Bank and Gaza.”

Though the Palestinians have threatened to cut security cooperation with Israel, seen as crucial to keeping a lid on violence in the West Bank, thus far it has remained in place.

A Palestinian rioter hurls a rock during clashes with Israeli security forces following a protest in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on January 29, 2020. (Musa AL SHAER / AFP)

Palestinians held protests throughout the West Bank on Wednesday and Thursday, though turnout was relatively limited and the demonstrations were easily contained by the IDF and Border Police.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said a total of 18 people were injured in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Hebron on Thursday during demonstrations.

In Ramallah, Israeli troops fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse demonstrators. According to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Prisoners Club, 33 protesters have been arrested over the last 24 hours.

On Thursday night, eight Palestinians were arrested on suspicion of rowing rocks at Israeli cars on roads near Ramallah, and a border police officer was lightly injured in clashes with rioters, according to Channel 12 news.

Palestinian demonstrators burn tires during a demonstration against a US brokered Middle East peace plan, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 29, 2020. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Tensions have also heated up in Gaza over the last several days, with an uptick in rocket fire and retaliatory air raids.

On Thursday night, three rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza. While two of the projectiles were intercepted and the other landed in an open area, a baby and mother in Sderot were injured while running for shelter.

Israel responded with airstrikes in southern Gaza against Hamas targets.

Police fear that violence could also break out on the Temple Mount following Friday prayers around noon. The flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City often sees large numbers of Muslim worshipers on Friday, and clashes have occurred in the past during periods of heightened tensions.

Israeli border police officers stand guard next to the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 27, 2017. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)

In July 2017, three Arab Israeli men opened fire at a group of police officers, killing two and sparking weeks of heightened tensions, as Israel demanded increased security measures on the holy site, a move that was staunchly rejected by Muslim worshipers.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett instructed the IDF to remain on high alert ahead of the plan’s release and prepare for the possibility of violence, amid reported threats by the Palestinian Authority to not act to restrain or disperse rioters in the West Bank.

Palestinian gunmen and civilians burn the U.S. and the Israeli flags, during a protest against the White House plan for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp, in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon on January 29, 2020. (AP/Mohammed Zaatari)

The US peace plan, released Tuesday, calls for a demilitarized Palestinian state on some 70 percent of the West Bank, with a capital in a suburb of Jerusalem, and a tunnel running to Gaza. Israeli leaders announced their intention to swiftly annex the Jordan Valley and settlement enclaves under the aegis of the plan, which has been rejected out of hand by the Palestinian leadership.

The White House has since made clear it does not support annexation before the March 2 election.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat on Thursday called the plan “historic madness.”

He told journalists in Ramallah that president Mahmoud Abbas had written to Netanyahu threatening to cut off security coordination if Trump’s plan goes ahead.

“We’ve told the Israelis the consequences of such an idea and they know it,” he said.

The Palestinians have made such threats multiple times before, without following through.

Agencies contributed to this report

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