JERUSALEM Ã¢â‚¬â€ Israel's army denied on Monday that it plans to carry out mass expulsions of Palestinians living in the West Bank after a new military policy entered into force.
The policy "will make it possible to better defend those those affected by an order of repatriation because it envisages the creation of a legal commission which such people may call upon," a military official said on condition of anonymity.
The official said the order would "affect very few people" as it was meant for people who were staying in the occupied West Bank illegally.
Earlier the policy was denounced by the Arab League and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who urged the international community to adopt "a clear stance on Israeli attempts to adopt a policy of ethnic cleansing."
Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported the new policy on Sunday, but the military insisted the new orders merely formalised existing procedures and said there would be no new wave of deportations from the territory.
Assad spoke after talks with visiting league chief Amr Mussa, who in remarks to reporters criticised Israel over the move, saying it "places itself above international law."
"For as long as this lasts, things will get worse and it will be more difficult to bring true peace" to the region, Mussa said, adding the Arab League council would hold an "urgent meeting" on Tuesday to discuss the issue.
Haaretz said amendments to an existing order on preventing infiltration could apply to Palestinians living in the West Bank without official ID cards issued by Israel, as well as to Israelis and foreigners working in areas under limited Palestinian control.
"The order's language is both general and ambiguous, stipulating that the term infiltrator will also be applied to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, citizens of countries with which Israel has friendly ties (such as the United States) and Israeli citizens, whether Arab or Jewish," the daily said.
"All this depends on the judgment of Israel defence forces commanders in the field."
But the Israeli military official said that the policy protected certain individuals, including the foreign wives of Palestinians.
"Similarly, very few Palestinians from Gaza will be affected because the vast majority of them are on the population register kept by the Palestinian Authority, and this measure has been endorsed by the Israeli authorities."
"As for those who are illegally in the West Bank, having a family in the West Bank constitutes a very important element for the committee. They will also appeal to the Supreme Court if the commission confirms repatriation," added the official.
Israel seized the West Bank including east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War. It is expected to form the main part of the Palestinians' promised future state.
The Israeli military can issue its own orders in the West Bank, but these can be overturned by the government or by Israeli courts.