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Israel-Palestine war: Far-right minister Smotrich calls for 'sterile zones' free of Palestinians near settlements

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said Palestinians should be excluded from 'security zones' in the occupied West Bank even to 'harvest olives'
Mourners carry the body of Palestinian youth Mahmoud Atrash who was killed in an Israeli raid near Hebron on 6 November (Reuters)
Mourners carry the body of Palestinian youth Mahmoud Atrash who was killed in an Israeli raid near Hebron on 6 November (Reuters)

Far-right Israeli Finance minister Bezalel Smotrich  has called for the creation of “sterile security zones” around settlements in the occupied West Bank to “prevent Arabs from entering them”.

In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, Smotrich, the de-facto “governor” of the West Bank, demanded that Palestinians should be barred from the zones encircling the settlements in the territory.

The move would presumably include lands Palestinians own, even to harvest olives, Israeli media reported on Monday.

In the letter, Smotrich denounced "the continued neglect of the security of the settlers in Judea and Samaria", using an Israeli name to refer to the occupied West Bank.

“The concept of security is shaken,” he said, referring to the 7 October assault by armed Palestinian fighters from Gaza into southern Israel, which resulted in the killing of around 1,400 Israelis. 

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Close to 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in the ongoing retaliatory Israeli onslaught on the besieged Strip.

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"The writing is on the wall and I am not ready to be a part of it. I will not agree to additional blood under my watch due to insistence on maintaining distorted perceptions,” Smotrich said in the letter.

Since the Hamas-led attack on 7 October, Smotrich and national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir have inflamed tensions in the West Bank, with Ben Gvir distributing arms to settlers in border towns and Smotrich halting the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority (PA) over its alleged support for Hamas.

This has stoked what the UN says is an "alarming" escalation of settler violence against Palestinians, with at least 144 Palestinians killed in the territory by Israeli fire.

A UN official on Friday said that Israeli soldiers and settlers have committed human rights violations and war crimes against Palestinians. 

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