Israel charges 5 settlers with army base rampage

12:00 Jan 8 2012 Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israel charged five Jewish settlers on Sunday with orchestrating a riot in an army base in the West Bank in a bid to foil plans to dismantle illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

The Dec. 13 rampage sparked outrage in Israel where the conscript military is a revered institution and a symbol of unity. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged a swift crackdown against the perpetrators.

Israel continues to expand larger settlements in land Palestinians seek for a state, but has taken steps to evacuate smaller outposts built without government authorization.

The four-page charge document said the men, who had been arrested shortly after the attack, had sought to thwart the eviction of unauthorized settlements. It listed seven counts including conspiring to riot, illegally entering a military base and tracking army movement in the West Bank.

"For a long period they planned ways to foil the evacuation of outposts in Samaria (northern West Bank)," the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

The prosecutors accused the men of organizing dozens of activists who broke into the army base, damaged property and threw stones at military vehicles, injuring a senior officer.

The document said the men were in possession of classified military documents and had received information from Israeli soldiers about a planned eviction.

Adi Keidar, a lawyer for three of the suspects, told Israel's Army Radio that "one cannot make any connection between the defendants and the incidents at the base."

Most countries regard as illegal all settlements Israel has constructed on land captured in a 1967 war. The United States has said settlement building harms the prospects of peace with the Palestinians.

The charges carried a maximum five-year prison term, Keidar said. According to the document, four of the settlers were issued restraining orders last year, keeping them away from the West Bank
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