Israel on high alert as Palestinians petition U.N.
Some 22,000 Israeli police and border police were on high alert across the country on Friday, poised to respond to any unrest resulting from a Palestinian bid to seek UN membership in New York.
“We have deployed 22,000 police and border police officers who will be on duty until at least Saturday night in order to maintain order across the country,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.
The forces were deployed along the Green Line between Israel and the West Bank, in annexed east Jerusalem, and around Arab Israeli towns, he said.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas will present a formal request for UN membership for a Palestine state later on Friday in a move which has sparked anger in Israel and opposition from Washington which has vowed to block the move at the UN Security Council.
Israel’s defence establishment has been preparing for months for the eventuality of rioting and mass unrest should the membership bid be scuttled, with the army, police and emergency services all on high alert on Friday.
In Jerusalem, police barred entry to the city’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound to men under 50 and anyone not holding a blue east Jerusalem ID card.
The army also boosted numbers in the West Bank, deploying an extra 1,500 reservists across the territory, media reports said. A military spokesman on Thursday said troops would show “restraint” in dealing with any disturbances, “using riot dispersal means” in accordance with the level of unrest.
Earlier this week, tens of thousands of Palestinians rallied across the West Bank in a massive show of support for the UN campaign, but there was little sign of any unrest and only isolated incidents of stone throwing.
More gatherings are planned for Friday evening when Palestinians are expected to turn out en masse to watch Abbas’s speech to the UN General Assembly on large screens in towns and cities across the West Bank.
Palestinian officials have repeatedly pledged that the marches and demonstrations will be peaceful and stay within Palestinian-controlled areas.