Jerusalem: Dozens of Jewish settlers broke into an army base in the West Bank early Tuesday and lit fires, damaged vehicles and threw stones at a senior officer, just hours after another group took over an abandoned building in a closed military zone on the border with Jordan.
The incidents were an ominous sign of the growing audacity of Jewish extremists, who increasingly have been venting their anger against the very troops assigned to guard them.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the base attack and ordered security forces to "act aggressively against those harming Israeli soldiers and their commanders," according to a statement from his office.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak called both incidents "homegrown terror" and said they "threaten to damage the delicate relations Israel has with its neighbors."
In the base attack, about 50 settlers vandalized army vehicles with paint and nails and threw stones at the district commander, who was not seriously hurt, the military said in a statement. Troops dispersed the rioters and two people were in custody, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The Israeli news site Ynet said the settlers were protesting the planned evacuations of unauthorized settlement outposts. In recent years, some Israeli settlers have vandalized military or Palestinian property to protest Israeli government action against settlements, a tactic they term "price tag."
"We are on the verge of civil war," parliamentary opposition leader Tzipi Livni warned in an interview with Israel Radio.
Some 300,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, among some 2.5 million Palestinians. An additional 200,000 live in east Jerusalem.
Israel captured both territories from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed east Jerusalem shortly thereafter, in a move that is not recognized internationally. Palestinians view the lands as the core of a future state that would also include the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, a different group of radical settlers cut a fence to enter a closed military zone along the border with Jordan on Monday night, security officials said. They took over an abandoned church near Jesus` traditional baptismal site on the Jordan River before Israeli security forces removed them and arrested all 17 people involved, officials said.
The protesters told police that they were protesting the Jerusalem municipality`s shutdown of a pedestrian walkway leading to a disputed Old City holy site, Rosenfeld added.
The wooden walkway, which leads up to the holy compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, has been declared unsafe by municipal officials in Jerusalem and was closed on Sunday. The ramp is the only access point for Jews, meaning that Jews cannot currently access the compound, revered as the site of two biblical temples.
Jordanian officials said the Israelis did not cross the border into Jordan.
Settler leaders condemned both incidents. Dani Dayan, who heads a settler umbrella group, said those responsible "must turn themselves in and if not, they must be arrested and tried."
In other news, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized Israel over the reported expansion of the West Bank settlement of Efrat. The settlement`s mayor said on Monday that the government gave the go-ahead to replace a trailer camp with 40 permanent homes there. The Palestinians have also condemned the move.
In a statement Monday, Ban called on Israel to freeze all settlement construction, saying it was "contrary to international law" and harmful to attempts to achieve a negotiated peace agreement.