JERUSALEM -- Israeli troops have been given new orders to act firmly, even with force, against Jewish settlers who have been attacking Palestinians on the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, the army said yesterday.
"The Israeli armed forces in the [occupied] territories, together with the police, have been told to take strong action against Jews engaged in illegal activities or who disturb the peace," a military spokesman said.
"Updated orders have been issued recently to commanders in coordination with the Justice Ministry, the police and State Attorney's Office."
Soldiers were told they could arrest settlers in "special cases" and then hand them over to police for prosecution, that they could impose curfews on Jewish settlements to halt rioting and other unrest and that they should, if necessary, employ "reasonable force" to prevent violence.
The army used its expanded powers last evening to bar hundreds of settlers from entering Nablus, the largest Palestinian city north of Jerusalem, where they planned a religious ceremony.
Troops also closed four nearby Jewish settlements, allowing residents to leave only if they were heading away from Nablus.
The 10 pages of military orders, substantially expanding previous standing orders for troops on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, were issued to all officers after Israeli soldiers stood by recently while settlers fired upon Palestinians in Hebron, Ramallah and other towns in angry protests against terrorist attacks upon Israelis.
Spiraling violence, the cycle of attack and counterattack between the Palestinians and settlers, has increased sharply in recent weeks, and members of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's Cabinet demanded tougher intervention by the army to halt it.
But it was televised footage, broadcast here and around the world, of Jewish settlers firing on Palestinians in the streets of the West Bank city of Hebron as soldiers watched -- or ran away -- that apparently led to the new army instructions.
Settlers protested the orders as an attempt to intimidate them.
Zvi Katzover, head of Kiryat Arba's local council, said the army "should not even dream" it could stop settlers from demonstrating. The military instructions were "ridiculous and impossible to carry out," he added, and he predicted Israelis would reject any attempt to place Jews under curfew.