Israel prepares for Palestinian statehood rallies

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police and army are importing horses, water cannons, tear gas launchers and a nauseating noise machine to avoid casualties among Palestinians if they go ahead with plans to protest in the West Bank during a bid for U.N. endorsement of Palestinian statehood next month, officials said Thursday.

The feverish preparations reflect painful lessons from Israel’s botched and bloody confrontation with thousands of Palestinians storming across the Syrian border in May, when ill-equipped Israeli solders shot more than a dozen protesters dead.

Israel absorbed stiff international criticism for the bloodshed, and officials admitted later the military was caught unprepared and did not have proper crowd control means.

Palestinians are planning mass demonstrations across the West Bank and abroad to coincide with the September U.N. General Assembly session, which the Palestinians hope will give official endorsement for their state. The statehood initiative reflects frustration with long stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Palestinian authorities have their own plans to keep the protests peaceful and avoid confrontations with Israelis, but local history has shown that events can quickly spiral out of control.

Israel fears a single incident — a Palestinian killing an Israeli with a firebomb or gunshot, or an Israeli soldier killing a Palestinian during a riot — could trigger a flood of violence.

Israel is doing all it can to prevent fatalities from its side, according to Israeli officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

According to an internal police newsletter obtained by the Associated Press, police have doubled the size of their riot control forces to more than 2,000.

“The police hope to avoid casualties in the event of (U.N. endorsement of) Palestinian independence,” wrote the author of the newsletter, Nissim Mor, commander of the police operations branch.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said preparations have been under way for several weeks, stressing non-lethal methods the police are used to employing.

“The Israeli police are prepared to deal with ... widespread demonstrations and marches throughout the country,” he said.

A section of southern Israel has been turned into a “September training camp,” the officials said.

The venue offers facilities and training for soldiers in handling violent scenarios without causing fatalities that would unleash a barrage of criticism against Israel and supply the Palestinians with another rallying cry.

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