Israeli-Palestinian battle in the West Bank featured heavier weaponry than usual
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
New developments in the Israeli-occupied West Bank are worrying the international community.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Thousands of new homes for Israeli settlers are set to be advanced next week. That's after Israel has changed the process for approving settlement construction, making it easier for Israeli settlers to claim more land that Palestinians want for a country of their own. The U.S., the EU and U.N. are calling this an obstacle to peace, and it comes during a violent time in the West Bank.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Daniel Estrin is with us from Tel Aviv. Daniel, tell us what happened yesterday in the West Bank.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: We saw some new, worrying trends yesterday and just in the last couple of weeks in general - heavier weaponry and greater casualties. What we've been seeing for more than a year now is that, almost every night, Israeli troops raid a Palestinian city, arrest suspects. They are trying to prevent Palestinian shootings on Israelis. But these military raids lead to gun battles, and troops end up regularly killing young Palestinians - high casualties.
What we saw in the raid yesterday was that Palestinian militants are becoming more emboldened, more sophisticated in their weaponry. We saw a rare roadside bomb go off, targeting an armored personnel carrier. The Army says it's quite an advanced bomb that went off. It wounded several soldiers. And for the first time in two decades, Israel deployed an attack helicopter to help extract soldiers. So we're seeing heavier weaponry being used by both sides. And yesterday was a fierce battle, where Palestinian officials said Israeli troops killed six Palestinians, including a 15-year-old. So now there are these calls in Israel for a wider offensive to prevent the spread of roadside bombs so they do not target Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
MARTÍNEZ: And we mentioned earlier, Daniel, that Israel is working to expand the presence of settlers in the West Bank. How is that happening?
ESTRIN: Right - in a couple of ways - next week, Israel is planning to advance about 4,800 new settler homes throughout the West Bank. That total number of settler homes this year being advanced is nearly triple the number last year. Also, this week, Israel changed the rules on how it plans new settlement homes. It has expedited the process. It's given sweeping decision powers to a far-right, pro-settler cabinet minister who openly says that he wants to expand the settler population and prevent a Palestinian state. This new approval process for settler homes could make it harder for countries like the U.S. to do what it has done for years, which is step in in the early stages of these settler plans and stop some of the more controversial ones. This is now a quicker pipeline - that settlement homes are going to be approved much more quickly.
So that's why the U.S., the EU, the U.N. have all spoken out. These moves deepen Israel's occupation of the West Bank. They also make it even harder to see a future where Israel can uproot from these areas and let Palestinians have their own country.
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, but there are no peace talks at all right now, so how does the recent violence and these new decisions on settlements affect where things are headed there?
ESTRIN: We are seeing a leadership vacuum in the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian president is deeply unpopular and deeply ineffective in advancing the Palestinian cause and freedom from Israeli occupation, and a young generation of Palestinians is taking up arms, filling up that vacuum - and also, on the Israeli side, a settler leadership taking up key positions of power in the government.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR international correspondent Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv - Daniel, thanks.
ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.