Israel army launches 'surprise' West Bank drill

Israeli soldiers detain soldiers in red T-shirts, playing the role of Palestinian rioters, during a drill near the West Bank city of Hebron on Sunday, organised by the Israeli army to simulate dispersing of riots and crowd control. -- PHOTO: AFP
Israeli soldiers detain soldiers in red T-shirts, playing the role of Palestinian rioters, during a drill near the West Bank city of Hebron on Sunday, organised by the Israeli army to simulate dispersing of riots and crowd control. -- PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel's army said it launched a "surprise exercise" Sunday calling up thousands of reservists for its central region of operations that includes the West Bank.

The military said in a statement that it was mobilising "forces including some 13,000 reserves, 3,000 of whom will physically report for active duty".

The drill, initiated by newly sworn-in chief of staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot, comes nearly two months after Israel stopped transferring taxes it collects for the Palestinian Authority (PA), in retaliation for its move to join the International Criminal Court.

The United States has expressed concern over the "viability" of the West Bank-based PA if Israel continued to withhold the funds.

But army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said the drill was "not specifically connected" to possible Israeli fears of an eruption of West Bank unrest due to the Palestinian fiscal crisis.

Lerner said the army carries out such drills on a regular basis, most recently in 2013, acknowledging however the "rare" size of the new drill which he said was the choice of Eisenkot, sworn in last month.

The army had informed Palestinian authorities of the exercise, expected to run two days.

jjm/hc Israel-Palestinians-conflict-WestBank-militaryAFP 011948 GMT MAR 15