Israel’s defence chief orders army to prepare to annex West Bank

Israel’s defence chief orders army to prepare to annex West Bank
Israel’s defence chief orders army to prepare to annex West Bank

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Israel has ordered its military to step up preparations for Israel's pending annexation of parts of the West Bank, the country's Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Monday, a plan that could stoke Palestinian unrest.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to begin cabinet discussions on July 1 on extending Israeli sovereignty to Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, occupied territory that Palestinians seek for a state.

Mr Gantz's order appeared to indicate that the centrist politician had either signed on to the move, or at least believed it would be inevitable, given right-wing support in the Netanyahu-led coalition cabinet. Mr Gantz is due to take the helm as prime minister in 17 months after challenging the incumbent in three deadlocked elections.

In public remarks to politicians in his centrist Blue and White party, Mr Gantz noted a recent increase in anti-Israeli violence in the West Bank and the Palestinians' declaration last month that they were ending security cooperation with Israel over the annexation issue.

He said he had subsequently ordered the chief of staff, Lt Gen Aviv Kochavi, to "examine all the ramifications and the required preparations" stemming from moving ahead with the peace plan US President Donald announced in January.

In a separate written statement, Mr Gantz said "preparations by the Israel Defence Forces should be stepped up ahead of pending diplomatic moves regarding the Palestinians". Israel’s defence ministry will establish a team to co-ordinate the military’s moves in the West Bank and the area around the Gaza Strip, the statement read.

Mr Netanyahu has said that from July 1 he will start the process of establishing sovereignty over 30 per cent of West Bank land, as seen under President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.

The Palestinians have rejected Mr Trump's peace plan, under which the vast majority of West Bank settlements built by Israel on land captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War would be incorporated into "contiguous Israeli territory".

The Palestinians and most countries consider such settlements illegal, though Israel disputes this.

The Trump plan also envisages a Palestinian state under near-complete Israeli security control, creating what Palestinians leaders say would be an unviable country.

"The call of the occupation army to get ready for annexation of the West Bank is a call for war, and the occupation will regret this crime, and soon realise they are committing a grave mistake,” Sami Abu Zuhri, an official with Hamas group, which rules the Gaza Strip, told Reuters.

On Sunday, hundreds of people attended the funeral of a Palestinian man who was fatally shot by police in an incident for which Mr Gantz later apologised.

Palestinian officials said the 32-year-old man, Iyad Hallaq, suffered mental health issues and decried his killing.

Updated: June 1, 2020 10:25 PM

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