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Settler raids on army base anger Israel PM

Jewish settlers attacked an army base and staged protests in a closed military zone on the Jordan border overnight, sparking a sharp condemnation from Benjamin Netanyahu.

JERUSALEM // Jewish settlers attacked an army base and staged protests in a closed military zone on the Jordan border overnight, sparking a sharp condemnation yesterday from the Israeli premier.

Early yesterday morning, about 50 settlers forced their way on to an army base in the northern West Bank and vandalised military vehicles, following rumours troops were about to evacuate settlement outposts, the military said.

Several hours earlier, about 30 settlers broke into a Christian baptismal site in a closed military zone along the Jordanian border to stage a protest.

Both incidents were swiftly condemned by the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who ordered the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) "to act aggressively" against anyone attacking Israeli troops.

"This incident must be completely condemned. The security forces need to concentrate on defending our citizens and not on such outrageous lawbreaking," he said.

An army statement said the early-morning attack had targeted the Ephraim base near the northern town of Qalqilya.

"Overnight, approximately 50 right-wing activists infiltrated the Ephraim regional division headquarters, set fire to tyres and damaged vehicles with stones, bottles of point and by placing nails on the road," it said.

"Rocks were thrown at the Ephraim regional division commander's vehicle. The commander was not injured," the statement added, condemning the attack.

Police said two people were arrested after the assault, which took place after rumours began circling in the settler community that troops were planning to dismantle several outposts set up without Israeli government permission.

In the earlier incident, settler activists broke into the Qasr Al Yahud Christian baptismal site along the Jordan border. They were protesting against Muslim opposition to the closure of a controversial ramp leading to Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City.

Seventeen people were detained for questioning, police said.

The two incidents were the latest in a slew of revenge attacks by settlers, which mostly targeted Palestinian and Arab property, but have also been directed at left-wing Israeli activists and the military.

These so-called "price-tag" attacks, usually carried out in response to steps against settlements, have been condemned by Israeli leaders, but the Palestinians say little action has been taken to prosecute those responsible.

The defence minister, Ehud Barak, lambasted the perpetrators for their "nefarious actions", which he said had no place in Israeli society. "These activities have the characteristic of home-grown terror and will not be tolerated", he said. "The defence minister has instructed the IDF to act with resolve in all of its efforts to curb this worrying bout of activity."

The opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, said the incidents were symptomatic of the "radicalisation" of Israeli society which was taking place with "the tacit agreement and a wink from the Netanyahu government".

The home front security minister, Matan Vilnai, described it as a case of Jewish terrorism.

"These are criminals, Jewish terrorists who are attacking the security of Israel," he said. "They are fighting the IDF which is protecting them."

The army urged council heads and rabbis in the settler community to take a stand against such incidents.

"Violence that targets the IDF and its soldiers ... is seen as extremely severe," the military said.

Danny Dayan, head of the Yesha settlers council, also spoke out against the violence, calling it "unacceptable, shameful". He added that those responsible "must be arrested and brought to justice".

It was not the first time settlers have targeted the army.

Two months ago, settlers attacked a group of soldiers on patrol near Ramallah in an incident reportedly linked to rumours the troops were about to dismantle an unauthorised settlement outpost.

A month earlier, 13 army vehicles were vandalised and sprayed with Hebrew graffiti in an attack just days after troops dismantled three structures in the nearby Migron outpost.

The move sparked an angry response from Mr Netanyahu and Mr Barak, who vowed to apprehend the perpetrators.

So far, no one has been arrested.

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