Israel Launches "Surprise" Drill in Occupied West Bank

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Published Monday, March 2, 2015

The Israeli military said it had mobilized some 13,000 soldiers for an unannounced drill on Sunday in the occupied West Bank, in the first such exercise in three years.

A terse statement said army chief Gadi Eisenkot had called a "surprise exercise in Central Command" — the military front that controls land captured in a 1967 war which is sought by Palestinians as part of a future state.

Footage of the exercise filmed by an Israeli television station showed soldiers in armored vehicles practicing how to handle casualties at the scene of a confrontation.

The drill came on the day that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said they would consider dissolving security cooperation with Israel over Israel's recent suspension of tax revenue transfers.

Asked about the timing of the drill, a military spokeswoman said it was "not necessarily linked to anything specific.” Israel's last such exercise in the West Bank was in 2012, and drills "are held from time to time," the spokeswoman said.

The PLO's 110-member decision-making body was expected to meet later this week to weigh proposals to suspend about a decade of security cooperation with Israel in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian officials said.

"Decisions will be taken regarding all forms of relations with Israel," Mahmoud al-Aloul, a senior official of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, told reporters.

Tensions have risen since the collapse of peace talks last April, and a rise in violence between the sides since the eve of a July-August Israeli assault on Gaza, with political analysts often questioning whether a new uprising was in the offing.

For 51 days this summer, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip by air, land and sea.

More than 2,310 Gazans, 70 percent of them civilians, were killed and 10,626 injured during unrelenting Israeli attacks on the besieged strip this summer.

Israel last month suspended transfer of vital tax funds to protest against the Palestinians joining world bodies such as the International Criminal Court.

On January 2, the PA presented a formal request to join the Hague-based court in a move which opens the way for them to file suit against Israeli officials for war crimes in the occupied territories.

On January 1, Abbas signed onto 20 international conventions, including the ICC, giving the court jurisdiction over crimes committed on Palestinian lands and opening up an unprecedented confrontation between the veteran peace negotiator and the Zionist State.

Meanwhile, under security cooperation renewed since shortly after a Palestinian uprising over a decade ago, the Palestinian Authority have conducted police duties in their territory, including arrests of suspected criminals and “anti-Israel” Palestinians.

Since September 2000, following the Second Intifada, at least 9,100 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis, including 2,053 Palestinian children, the equivalent of one Palestinian child being killed every three days for the past 14 years.

Israeli media said Eisenkot, who took the helm of the military last month, had called a two-day drill to test the army's level of readiness.

Israel Radio quoted an unidentified senior military source as saying the drill had been unexpected, would be "unusual in size" and would also involve aerial and intelligence units.

The roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict date back to 1917, when the British government, in the now-infamous Balfour Declaration, called for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

Jewish immigration rose considerably under the British administration of Palestine, which was consolidated by a League of Nations "mandate" in 1922.

In 1948, with the end of the mandate, a new state — Israel — was declared inside historical Palestine.

As a result, some 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes, or were forcibly expelled, while hundreds of Palestinian villages and cities were razed to the ground by invading Zionist forces.

The Palestinian diaspora has since become one of the largest in the world. Palestinian refugees are currently spread across the region and in other countries, while many have settled in refugee camps in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel then occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the holy city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Zionist state — a move never recognized by the international community.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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