JERUSALEM: Israeli troops fired tear gas and stun grenades in a clash with rock-hurling Palestinians on Saturday as the forces tried to dismantle an encampment that activists set up in the West Bank to protest Israeli restrictions on building in the territory.
The al-Manatir camp - a group of four tents and five metal shacks built in a Palestinian olive grove near the West Bank village of Burin - is the fourth protest encampment that Palestinians have tried to establish in recent weeks.
They are hoping to draw attention to Israel's control of territory that they want for their future state. In particular, they protest what they say is Israel's broader policy of not allowing Palestinians to build in areas under its control.
Khaki-clad soldiers surrounded the encampment and set up checkpoints preventing more people from approaching the area. Then clashes erupted as soldiers fired tear gas and some of the dozens of Palestinians began throwing rocks at the forces, their faces masked by scarves to prevent choking from tear gas as the two groups chased each other in the orchard's shaggy grass. Other Palestinians shouted, clapped and danced in the distance, some waving their national flag.
The Israeli army said paramilitary border troops arrested five Palestinians. No serious injuries were reported.
The village of Burin has come under frequent attack by hard-line Jewish settlers who live nearby. About a dozen young men and boys, apparently Jewish settlers, clashed with Palestinian civilians at the scene. The Israeli military called it "mutual rock hurling" between Israeli and Palestinian civilians, and said soldiers broke up the crowd with riot dispersal means, which typically includes tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. One Israeli civilian and a paramilitary border policeman were lightly wounded in the clash, the army said.
By building encampments, Palestinians are imitating the hard-line Jewish settlers who have established a series of wildcat outposts throughout the West Bank, typically clusters of caravans near already-built Jewish communities. Although Israel views the wildcat outposts as illegal, few have been dismantled.
There are also some 500,000 Israelis who live in Jewish settlements scattered through the West Bank and around east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital. Israel's settlement policy is seen as illegal by the international community, and the United Nations sharply criticized the Jewish state's West Bank settlements in a report released Thursday.
"We are doing this to confirm our ownership of the land, and its sovereignty," said Abir Kopty, a Palestinian activist. "It's not enough to make reports and condemnations. There's a need for concrete action."