The Israeli army is planning to provide tear gas and stun grenades to settlers in the occupied West Bank who have been trained to repel any violent protests when the Palestinians seek statehood at the United Nations next month, an Israeli newspaper says.
According to Haaretz, the Israeli army has also conducted a strategy to determine a "red line" for each settlement in the West Bank, which will determine when soldiers will be ordered to shoot at the feet of Palestinians if they cross the line.
Asked to confirm the report, the military issued a written statement on Tuesday, saying it was in the process of training settlement response teams "to deal with any possible scenario".
The statement said the military recently "completed training the majority of the first response teams" and the exercises were ongoing.
The Palestinian Authority plans to seek the UN’s endorsement of statehood when the General Assembly reconvenes next month, a bid seen likely to upgrade the Palestinians’ diplomatic status.
Israel rejects the move as sidestepping peace talks that have been frozen for a year in a dispute over settlement building.
Israeli officials have voiced fears the statehood bid could inspire Palestinian activists to hold demonstrations to coincide with the vote.
‘Worst Case Scenario’
Chaim Levinson, the Haaretz reporter who broke the story, told Al Jazeera: "Part of preparation is to train the settlers so that they will be prepared for the worst scenario that hundreds, maybe thousands of Palestinians will come from Palestinian cities to protest towards settlements.
"The Israeli Defence Forces [IDF] will train them, arm them with tear gas and stun grenades," added Levinson.
The army is ensuring that any demonstrations will be controlled and will rely on the assistance of security officers from the settlements to assist them where necessary.
The army is creating two virtual lines for each of the settlements that are near a Palestinian village. The first line, if crossed by Palestinian demonstrators, will be met with tear gas and other means for dispersing crowds.
The second line is a "red line," and if this one is crossed, the soldiers will be allowed to open fire at the legs of the demonstrators…"
However, Jewish settler officials denied the Haaretz report about the plan to arm settlers, saying any use of firearms would be very limited and for defensive purposes only.
"Certainly during a period of tension, with intelligence reports of possible threats, of course, readiness crews are being trained," said Danny Dayan, chairman of the settlers’ YESHA Council.
Dayan saw these preparations as "nothing extraordinary", noting how most settlers involved have already done compulsory duty in the Israeli military which drafts most Israeli men at the age of 18.
Armed settlers "operate under orders to avoid killing civilians [and] in the event of a break-in at a settlement, the response would be purely defensive, nothing offensive," he added.
Palestinians and human rights groups say settlers have used weapons to attack Palestinians in the past and that Israel has been lax in investigating such incidents.
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)