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Palestinians set up 'settler attack' watchdog

Sept. 19, 2011 10:55 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 21, 2011 10:22 P.M.)
NABI SALEH (AFP) -- Palestinian and international activists on Monday launched a campaign to monitor what they said are growing attacks on Palestinians and their property by Israeli settlers.

The campaign, launched by activists from the grassroots Palestinian Popular Committees, would see a group of volunteers documenting attacks by Jewish settlers, spokesman Jonathan Pollak told AFP.

"The idea is that groups of volunteers -- initially four -- will be on call, ready to quickly respond," Pollak said.

They would record evidence of any attacks or vandalism and make their footage and reporting available to media and rights groups, he said.

The campaign was launched after a recent surge in attacks following the Israeli army's demolition of homes in illegal settlement outposts and rising tension over the Palestinian bid for full UN membership.

In the past 10 days, mosques, cars and agricultural land have been vandalised in at least nine separate incidents blamed on Jewish settlers.

In one attack, burning tyres were rolled into a mosque in an attempt to burn it down and Hebrew slogans were inscribed on the building's walls.

Two other mosques and a West Bank university were targeted, as was the Jerusalem home of an Israeli woman working for an anti-settlement group, and vandals also damaged vehicles on an Israeli army base near Ramallah.

The surge in attacks comes as the Palestinians prepare to seek full UN membership for their state later this week in a move fiercely opposed by Israel.

The West Bank's most radical settlers have for some time adopted what they call a "price tag" policy, under which they attack Palestinians and their property in response to Israeli government measures against settlements.

Mohamed Khatib, coordinator of the Popular Committees, said there was a growing need for monitoring of settler activity in the West Bank, pointing to settler interference with the campaign's launch on Monday.

Organisers had planned a news conference at a spring they say is on private Palestinian land, but were prevented from accessing the location when settlers arrived at the scene, Khatib said.

"The recent increase in settler attacks and the army's unwillingness to prevent them has forced us to organise to try to prevent and deal with them ourselves," he said, stressing all action would be "peaceful and unarmed."

"What happened today is a clearest example of that need... when the settlers arrived it was us that the army prevented from staying there, while ignoring the settlers."

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