JERUSALEM – Angry settlers beat and seriously injured a female Israeli police officer Tuesday, police said, as she tried to enforce a government ban on new housing construction in Jewish West Bank settlements.
It was the most serious clash between settlers and authorities since the building restrictions were imposed last month. Settlers have vowed to defy the orders and have confronted government inspectors, scuffling with them.
Tuesday's incident went beyond the usual pushing and shoving.
Police spokesman Gil Elhadad said about 100 settlers, most of them teenagers, burned tires and blocked the entrance to the settlement of Tsofit, in the northern part of the West Bank near the line with Israel. He said some of them jumped the police officer and beat her, breaking several ribs. She was taken to a hospital for treatment of serious injuries, he said. He did not give her name or age.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the 10-month moratorium on construction of new housing in the West Bank as a gesture to the Palestinians, hoping they would resume peace negotiations.
However, Palestinian leaders rejected the move because it did not include east Jerusalem and allowed completion of about 3,000 housing units already under construction as well as putting up new public buildings, like schools and synagogues, in the settlements.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the PLO central council that Palestinians would not participate in peace negotiations until Israel fully freezes Israeli settlement building and agrees to recognize all areas captured in the 1967 Mideast war as the basis for a Palestinian state, referring to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
"If there is a total freeze of settlement activity and recognition of 1967 borders, yes, we will go to negotiations," Abbas said.
Israel's position is that issues like settlements and borders should be discussed in negotiations, not as preconditions.
Also Tuesday, a Palestinian human rights group listed 116 Hamas activists who were arrested in the West Bank this week by the government dominated by the rival Fatah movement.
Jaber Wishah of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said the Hamas members were detained in an attempt to pre-empt celebrations of Hamas' 22nd anniversary, marked on Monday with a huge rally in Gaza City.
Palestinian Authority police spokesman Adnan Damiri said the Hamas members were only summoned and warned that Hamas celebrations were "illegal."
The West Bank and Gaza have been ruled by rival governments since Hamas expelled forces loyal to Abbas from Gaza in 2007.
While both Hamas and Fatah frequently detain and abuse each other's members, rarely have so many people been arrested at once.
A Hamas official in the West Bank, who requested anonymity fearing arrest, said some detainees were released Tuesday, but he did not know how many.