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Israeli military hopes closures will end West Bank protests

Palestinians have protested each week against the 700-kilometer wall and fence that separates Israel from the West Bank.
Palestinians have protested each week against the 700-kilometer wall and fence that separates Israel from the West Bank.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Two Palestinian towns have been home to weekly protests opposing separation barrier
  • 700-kilometer stretch of concrete wall and fence separates Israel from West Bank
  • Protest sites will be closed between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. every Friday
  • Gaby Lasky, a lawyer representing village residents, said the military order is illegal
RELATED TOPICS
  • Israel
  • West Bank

Jerusalem (CNN) -- In a bid to end what it calls illegal riots, the Israeli military will prohibit outsider access to areas in two occupied West Bank villages one day a week, according to a statement explaining the move.

"Every week, violent, illegal riots take place in the area of Nil'in and Bil'in, during the course of which members of the security forces are wounded and heavy damage is caused to the security fence and to public property," the Israeli military statement read.

"In an effort to prevent the inciters of these riots from reaching the area in which the riots take place, three weeks ago, OC Central Command Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi signed an order designating the area between the fence and the villages of Nil'in and Bil'in as a closed military zone."

Word of the Israeli military order became public Monday.

For the past five years the two Palestinian towns have been home to weekly Friday protests opposing Israel's separation barrier, the over-700-kilometer stretch of concrete wall and fence that separates Israel from the West Bank.

The demonstrations have become a weekly ritual and the center of a nascent non-violent Palestinian resistance movement, which attract an assortment of Palestinians, Israelis and international activists. However, the demonstrations often degenerate into clashes between Israeli military personnel and stone-throwing youths.

The protest sites will be closed between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. every Friday for the next six months, but the closure does not apply to residents of the villages.

The Palestinian Authority Cabinet issued a statement saying it "condemned the repressive actions by the occupation forces against peaceful demonstrations, as well as the declaration of Bil'in and Nil'in as closed military areas every Friday for six months." The cabinet "stressed the right of the Palestinian people, according to international laws, to defy occupation measures, settlement activities, and the building of the wall."

The move comes after months of increased Israeli military activity in the form of night raids and arrests in the villages.

Residents and protest organizers also have decried the latest Israeli military action, saying in a news release that it is part of a "persecution campaign against Palestinian activists in an attempt to suppress the rising tide of West Bank popular resistance to the occupation."

Speaking to CNN last month, Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, acknowledged Israeli army activity in the towns and said Israel has the responsibility to deal those who were leading the protests. "If those people who are organizing it from even behind the scenes, they cannot be above the law, and that's what we're dealing with."

Gaby Lasky, a lawyer representing village residents, said the military order is illegal and argued that "closed military zone orders are not meant to deal with demonstrations, which are clearly in the civic rather than the military realm."

According to the Palestinian activist group Popular Struggle, six protesters have been killed in the demonstrations since 2008. The Israeli military says more than a hundred of its soldiers have been wounded.