Israel to allow its military to expel thousands of Palestinians from West Bank

PNA opposes decision, Arab League calls for deterring Israel

Lieberman asks U.S. President not to interfere in Jerusalem settlement construction

British magazine says Israel owns hundreds of nuclear bombs, thousands of rockets

Palestinian protests, backed by the Arab League, escalated Tuesday against a potential Israeli threat to expel West Bank residents who lack proper identification.

The Palestinians’ chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said the effect of Israel’s new military orders would be to turn West Bank Palestinians into “criminals in their own homes.” Hundreds of Palestinians, meanwhile, held a sit-in demonstration.

“Smash Israeli apartheid, free Palestine,” over 200 demonstrators chanted in the center of the West Bank city of Ramallah, political capital of the Palestinian Authority. “I have the right to move inside my country.”

In Cairo, the Arab League called on Palestinians to refuse to heed the Israeli military’s amended orders that could trigger the West Bank deportations.

The 22-member League pledged its “full support for Palestinian steps in the Occupied Territories to resist this decision,” while urging Palestinians “to reject and not cooperate and acquiesce in it.”

It mandated the Arab bloc at the UN General Assembly to set up an emergency session on the mounting dispute.

Palestinian Premier Salam Fayyad said on the sidelines of a donor meeting in Madrid that the potential expulsion threat was “in every way illegal.”

But Israel’s army denied Monday plans to carry out mass expulsions of West Bank Palestinians under the new policy.

The policy “will make it possible to better defend those affected by an order of repatriation because it envisages the creation of a legal commission which such people may call upon,” a military official said.

But Erakat said the new orders “make it infinitely easier for Israel to jail and expel Palestinians from the West Bank.

“Under the new orders, anyone found without a designated permit, including Palestinians living in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority, can be imprisoned for up to seven years as well as expelled from the West Bank.”

The orders would “have the effect of turning Palestinians into criminals in their own homes, while directly undermining the efforts of Palestinians to run their own internal affairs,” he said in a statement.

The orders define an “infiltrator” in a way that could describe anyone in the West Bank who “does not hold a permit.” The vast majority of Palestinians have never been required to hold an Israeli permit to reside in the West Bank.

The amendments were signed on October 13, 2009, and came into effect on Tuesday, but they were not publicized by military authorities and only revealed by human rights groups in the past days.

They are “worded so broadly, such as theoretically allowing the military to empty the West Bank of almost all its Palestinian inhabitants,” seven Israeli rights group said in a joint statement.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had said that Israel will not stop building in Jerusalem, reported local daily The Jerusalem Post.

"We can not give in to pressure and no state would agree to limit construction in its capital," Lieberman was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying.

Lieberman made the remarks when top Israeli government ministers are about to convene, after a week of Jewish Passover holiday, on how to respond to the demands of U.S. President Barack Obama that Israel take several steps to push forward the Israeli- Palestinian peace process.

The United States made these requests after Israeli government gave green light to a 1,600 housing program in East Jerusalem during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's Middle East tour last month.

The building scheme threatened to derail the U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian negotiation and draw severe criticism from the Obama administration, whose peace efforts were embarrassed by Israel's move.

Despite repeated requests from Obama and senior U.S. officials that Israel reverse the plan and halt construction in East Jerusalem, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has not shown any intention of a building freeze.

The Jewish state claims the whole Jerusalem as its indivisible capital, and has for decades refused to make concessions on this subject, although the international community, including the United State, does not recognize its unilateral annexation of the eastern part.

The Palestinians, who view East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, have been demanding a complete freeze of construction there, and made it a prerequisite for re-launching peace talks.

Jerusalem authorities plan to give the green light to build a new synagogue and school in east Jerusalem on land seized from Palestinians, Israeli army radio reported on Tuesday.

The land was seized from its Palestinian owners shortly before planning for the buildings started in the 1990s, the radio said.

The construction project in the Gilo neighborhood, a Jewish settlement, still needs final approval from the city's planning commission, whose head Kobi Khalon said this would be a formality.

But Khalon, who is also deputy mayor, added: "We must act with prudence and responsibility as Jerusalem is an explosive city."

The status of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements are major stumbling blocks in Middle East peace efforts.

Israel has considered the Holy City its "eternal and indivisible" capital since it seized Arab east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community.

The Palestinians see east Jerusalem as part of the occupied West Bank and want it to be the capital of their promised state.

The announcement of a plan for 1,600 new settler homes in east Jerusalem during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden last month triggered a major row with Washington, which has pushed for a freeze of settlement activity.

Israel's seven-strong security cabinet met on Monday to discuss Washington's demands for specific confidence-building measures to promote a restart of Middle East peace talks.

The demands were made last month during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington that appeared to deepen the row with the administration of President Barack Obama.

Under Netanyahu's orders, Jerusalem's planning commission -- whose approval is needed for any construction project in the city -- has not met since the ill-timed announcement during Biden's visit, said city council member Meir Margalit.

Its first meeting for more than a month will be on Thursday, when it is expected to approve the Gilo project, said the left-winger.

Meanwhile, analysts for a reputable military journal have rated Israel as the world's sixth nuclear power, alongside Britain, with up to 300 nuclear warheads.

Citing comments by British security experts, the British Jane's Defense Weekly has revealed that Tel Aviv is currently in possession of between 100 and 300 nuclear warheads. The firepower was more or less equal to that of the United Kingdom, the publication said.

The armaments, it added, were deployable via land, air or sea and could be rendered “fully” combat ready “within days.”

According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, based in London, Israel's strategic strength is based on short-range ground missiles Jericho 1, and intermediate range Jericho 2 missiles.

Based on Jane's report, the scope of Jericho 1 has increased from 1500km to 4500 km. Since 2005, Israel has also added the Jericho 3 long-range missile with a targeting range of 7800 km to its stockpile.

The journal says in addition to conventional atomic warheads, some observers believe Israel has also developed tactical nuclear arms in the form of landmines and artillery shells.

Since 1958, when it began building its widely-reported Dimona plutonium and uranium processing facility, Israel has reportedly manufactured scores of the warheads, earning reputation as the sole owner of such hardware in the Middle East.

Former US president Jimmy Carter, aerial footage and decades of recurrent reporting have attested to the existence of the arsenal.

Despite the high-profile accusations that Israel introduced the weapons into the Middle East, Tel Aviv maintains a policy of deliberate ambiguity on the matter and has so far refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — a treaty which seeks to limit the spread of such weapons of mass destruction.

The US and its other European allies, however, have so far kept silent about Israel's military nuclear activities.