IDF to boost forces, but aiming to avoid conflict, on Palestinian ‘day of rage’

Palestinians plan mass protests Tuesday across West Bank and Gaza Strip against new US settlements policy

Illustrative: Palestinians clash with IDF soldiers in the West Bank city of Jenin, January 18, 2018. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)
Illustrative: Palestinians clash with IDF soldiers in the West Bank city of Jenin, January 18, 2018. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces was reportedly bolstering its forces in the West Bank and on the Gaza Strip border on Tuesday, as Palestinians planned a “day of rage” to protest the Trump administration’s declaration it does not view settlements as illegal.

The army issued soldiers with strict rules of engagement in a bid to keep casualties down and stop the protests spiraling out of control, Channel 12 TV reported.

Palestinians were planning marches in the cities, with some planning to move to “friction points” where they could confront Israeli soldiers.

According to Channel 12, the IDF was concerned that the actions of few soldiers, responding to expected rock throwing and fire bombs, with lethal force, could prompt widespread clashes.

And so the IDF was positioning additional officers in the field along side the troops to ensure that soldiers reacted proportionally and only used lethal force in cases when lives where in danger.

The IDF had no official comment on its preparations for the protests.

Palestinains were angered when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared last week that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law,” breaking with decades of US policy.

“We declared a day of rage to reject this statement by the American secretary of state,” PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yousef said in a phone call. “We totally condemn this American effort to legitimize the settlements.”

Like the Palestinians, most of the international community considers settlements to be illegal. That stance is based in part on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population to occupied territory.

Israel, however, maintains that the West Bank is not an occupied territory but rather disputed land that was captured from Jordan in a defensive war in 1967.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo makes a statement during a press conference at the US Department of State in Washington, DC, on November 18, 2019. (JIM WATSON/AFP)

The PLO official, who is based in Ramallah, said that the protests also will denounce Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge last September to apply Israeli sovereignty over the vast majority of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, if he is given another term in office.

The Palestinians hope to build an independent state in the West Bank including the Jordan Valley as well as East Jerusalem and Gaza.

Abu Yousef added that the protests will include short marches starting at 11:30 a.m. through city centers and speeches by leaders of Palestinian factions, adding that they will not venture to “friction points” with the Israeli security forces.

Demonstrations at “friction points” often turn into clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli security forces.

Isam Bakr, a prominent Palestinian activist, however, did not rule out the possibility of protesters going to such areas.

“There are voices calling on people to go to the friction points, so it is possible people could go there,” he said in a phone call. “They will go where they need to go to protest this illegal American decision.”

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces following a protest in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah April 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI

Abu Yousef also said that he expected large numbers of Palestinians to participate in the demonstrations because all of the Palestinian factions agreed to send their members to them.

“We expect a very significant turnout,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority Education Ministry announced late Sunday that schools would suspend classes between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

“The Education Ministry affirms the necessity of participating in the events being organized,” it said in a statement.

The Palestinians have organized multiple protests in the past two years in response to American decisions, which have widely been seen as marginalizing the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership.

Those moves included a decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the transfer of the US embassy to that city, and the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic office in Washington. Those moves have been widely, though not universally, welcomed in Israel.

Adam Rasgon and  AP contributed to this report.

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