gush etzion map 298.
(photo credit: )
Palestinians are making greater efforts to kidnap an IDF soldier or a civilian in the West Bank in an attempt to put more pressure on Israel as it negotiates the release of Cpl. Gilad Schalit from the Gaza Strip, a senior Central Command officer warned Wednesday.
The warnings join similar alerts Israel has noted along the border with the Gaza Strip.
According to the officer, the kidnapping threat in Judea and Samaria dramatically increased recently and was particularly dangerous in the Bethlehem-Gush Etzion area and on Road 60, which runs through the settlements outside Ramallah.
"As the negotiations over Schalit's release advance, the Palestinians are doing everything they can to get their hands on another Israeli," the senior officer told The Jerusalem Post. "There is no question that two abductees are better than just one."
With the threats increasing throughout the West Bank, the IDF has devised a number of plans in an attempt to thwart Palestinian kidnapping attempts and to inform the settler public of the risk of standing outside settlements, particularly late at night, while flagging down random cars.
"This is a real and dangerous threat," the officer said. "It does not appear to be ready to disappear."
Under the command of Lt.-Col. Shimon Avni - responsible for protection of settlements in the West Bank at the Central Command - the IDF has designed a warning system that it plans to install at over 10 hitchhiking posts throughout the West Bank.
The system was recently installed at the main hitchhiking post outside the settlement of Ofra - where 19-year-old Eliahu Asheri was kidnapped from in June - and includes a distress button as well as a set of cameras that broadcast a live picture to the security booth at the settlement's entrance.
Avni's office also produced a movie that reenacted Asheri's kidnapping and distributed it to the settlements. The IDF has also announced plans to operate a number of armored buses that will pick up and drop off settlers along Road 60 during the summer break.
"For us this is strictly a security issue," the officer said. "If an Israeli is kidnapped, this is a major blow to the IDF and the State of Israel."
But while the IDF was making maximum efforts to assist settlers, the officer said that it was up to the people themselves to "be responsible" and not to try to hitchhike in the West Bank. "It is not difficult to kidnap an Israeli standing at a hitchhiking post," the officer said.
The officer also sharply criticized right-wing activists who marched to the evacuated settlement of Homesh on Independence Day last week and who have announced plans to return on Friday. He said that it was only a matter of time before some of the activists were injured in a Palestinian terror attack while marching towards the settlement.
"The IDF is not present there like it is in other places in the West Bank since the disengagement when the settlement was evacuated," he said. "The activists march up there with strollers and babies and this is extremely dangerous."