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Israeli settlers build new outposts amid rising West Bank violence


JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel’s national security minister on Friday urged tougher military action against Palestinian militants in the occupied West Bank and urged Israeli settlers to expand their presence there despite surging violence and international calls for a halt to new construction.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, was speaking at a settler outpost – one of several the Israeli military said had been discovered across the West Bank since Thursday but were not authorised.

They would be dismantled “according to enforcement priorities”, a military statement said without elaborating.

The developments followed some of the worst violence in years involving Palestinians, Israeli forces and Jewish settlers in the West Bank in the past week.

“We have your backs, run to the hilltops, settle the land,” National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said during his visit.

The United Nations human rights chief in Geneva on Friday the situation “risks spiralling out of control” and he urged Israel to “bring its actions into line with international law”.

But Ben-Gvir called for tougher action.

“We must launch a military operation, bring down buildings, eliminate terrorists, not one or two but dozens and hundreds and if necessary thousands,” he said.

“Because, ultimately, it is the only way we will seize this place, strengthen our hold and restore security to the residents.”

Most countries deem Jewish settlements built on land Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal. Their expansion has for decades been among the most contentious issues between Israel, the international community and Palestinians, who say they undermine a viable future Palestinian state.

The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported at least seven new outposts were built in the West Bank since Thursday with the government’s knowledge.

The new construction follows an announcement on Wednesday by Netanyahu of plans for 1,000 new homes in the Eli settlement in response to a Palestinian gun attack in the area the previous day that killed four Israelis.

According to the Israeli watchdog Peace Now, Eli was built in 1984 and some 4,600 settlers reside there. Palestinians in the area say they were dispossessed of their land to allow for the settlement’s expansion over the years.

Tuesday’s shooting came a day after an Israeli raid on Jenin that led to an hours-long gunbattle between Palestinian fighters and Israeli forces backed by helicopter gunships. Seven Palestinians were killed and more than 90 wounded and seven Israeli personnel were also wounded.

In retaliation for that attack, hundreds of Israeli settlers rampaged through Palestinian towns in the West Bank such as Turmus Ayya, killing a 25-year-old Palestinian father and setting dozens of houses and cars ablaze.

Military spokesman Daniel Hagari said police arrested three people on suspicion of involvement in the rampages. The army had not been adequately prepared for the outburst of settler violence, he said.

“What happened in Turmus Ayya, the nationalist crime, is a severe event that we should prevent. We failed to prevent it,” he told a news briefing.

“We will do our lesson-learning and investigate ourselves as well in order to prevent this kind of event from occurring,” he said.

The Palestinian foreign ministry condemned Israel’s new settlement projects, which it said were part of its plan to de facto annex the West Bank.

Israel is “permanently closing the door to any opportunity for a political solution to the conflict,” it said.

Israel cites biblical, historical and political ties to the West Bank as its justification for claiming the land, and says construction there follows a building permit process.

Since taking office in January, Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition has approved the promotion of more than 7,000 new housing units, most deep in the West Bank. It also amended a law to clear the way for settlers to return to four settlements that had previously been evacuated.

According to the United Nations, some 700,000 settlers live in 279 settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, up from 520,000 in 2012.

(Reporting by Henriette Chacar; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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