March 1, 2013 - 1:00am

Ahead of a possible escalation of violence in the West Bank, the Israeli military is training combat units on how to deal with planned protests by thousands of angry Palestinian demonstrators.

During the workshop, the troops practiced using crowd-control measures largely considered non-lethal, like flash bangs, rubber- tipped bullets and stench bombs.

The one-day workshop, concluded on Wednesday, was held amid a sharp spike in violence in east Jerusalem and across the West Bank over the past week, in which a number of Palestinians, among them a 13-year-old, were wounded during clashes with Israeli security forces.

Tensions have mounted since Saturday, when Arafat Jaradat, a 30- year-old Palestinian, died in an Israeli prison during interrogation.

"We are preparing for a month of unrest and contending with wide-ranging escalation," a senior Central Command officer told the Ynet news service.

The escalating violence alerted decision-makers in Israel to the possibility that Palestinians' deepening despair over the deadlock in peace process, financial distress and Israel's continued settlement construction could ultimately lead to a third intifada after years of relative calm.

"Since Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip in November, we have seen a rise in disturbances. Nevertheless, the security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority continues," a military spokesman told Xinhua on Thursday.

"In all of the protests that took place in recent days we instructed the soldiers to make minimal use of force in order to prevent an escalation. At the same time, we bolstered manpower at friction points in real-time," the spokesman said.

He added this is "an indication that we seek to avoid an escalation and an understanding of the sensitivity of the matter."

But, while the army is gearing for the prospect of a new Palestinian uprising, some Israeli commentators have played down the threat, saying that the Palestinian leadership is motivating " orchestrated demonstrations" aimed at securing Israeli gestures, such as the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Earlier this week, Palestinian sources in Ramallah played down the likelihood of an intifada in the near future, noting that the Palestinian leadership is pinning "great hopes" on U.S. President Barack Obama's planned visit to the region next month and a swift renewal of the peace process.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017