Israeli settlers clash with police over construction freeze

Israeli settlers clashed with police Wednesday, angry over a West Bank settlement freeze announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

By , Correspondent

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    Jewish settlers and a child build a cement foundation for a synagogue as a symbolic act of protest against the Israeli government decision to freeze construction of private homes, in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat south of Jerusalem on Wednesday.
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Violent clashes broke out between settlers and Israeli police over a temporary building freeze in the West Bank, escalating a rift between the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and religious nationalists – an important constituency.

Police arrested the mayor of one settlement who tried to block building inspectors from entering the town, Haaretz newspaper reported on its website. Settlers also threw rocks at Palestinians near the city of Nablus in protest, Israel Radio reported.

The inspectors have issued 64 stop-work orders in the past two days at construction sites where building foundations have not been completed, stunning settlers who say they had received government construction approval. The settler leadership council on Monday called on residents to participate in nonviolent civil disobedience. The council called a demonstration against the freeze for next Wednesday and said Mr. Netanyahu's decision was "a shameful capitulation to American demands'' and a "collapse of ideology.''

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"Many people feel hurt personally in an unjust way. Many people think politically that we must draw a line that cannot be crossed,'' says Avraham Diskin, a political science professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "Most chances are that people are going to cool down, but the potential for a larger conflict is there. It’s a very dangerous situation. It might explode. ''

Israel announced a 10-month building freeze in the West Bank as a good faith gesture to restart peace talks. But Palestinian leaders called it an empty gesture, since settlement construction in East Jerusalem and on 3,000 previously approved settler homes in the West Bank will continue.

Peace activists said that if the government follows through on the freeze, it would mark the most significant clampdown yet on new settlements. Using rhetoric reminiscent of the settler attacks on former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for evacuating settlements in the Gaza Strip, one settler leader wrote in an open letter to Netanyahu that Israel's enforcement of the freeze was "totalitarian'' because it wasn't voted on by parliament, Haaretz reported.

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