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Israel aims to avoid casualties if Palestinians demonstrate during September UN session
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 that 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 that 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.
The officials also told the AP that Israeli security is working with top Palestinian commanders to coordinate activities aimed at avoiding casualties. Palestinian officials would not comment on that.
The police newsletter called the preparations "Seeds of Summer," spelling out the equipment police are planning to use if confronted with rioting Palestinians.
The newsletter also described a new crowd control device, a machine that generates sound waves that cause nausea.
Police have ordered such a machine, called "the scream," the newsletter said, adding that they are also acquiring "the skunk" ' a device that sprays a foul-smelling fluid to subdue unruly crowds.
Also, 15 horses arrived this week from Belgium and two water cannons are on order, in addition to several already available, it said.
Israel has supplies of tear gas grenades and launchers and is ordering more, military officials said. Soldiers have used rubber-coated steel bullets in past confrontations, though those have killed some Palestinians.
In a move that might increase tensions, Israel's Interior Ministry on Thursday gave approval for the construction of 1,600 apartments in Israeli neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, with another 2,700 nearing approval.
Palestinians claim east Jerusalem for their capital and object to any Israeli construction there. The projects routinely bring a wave of international criticism at every stage in the lengthy approval process. Several additional procedural steps lie ahead for the apartments approved Thursday, and actual construction would be years away.