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Settlers face crackdown

JERUSALEM - The Israeli army was ordered yesterday to crack down on violent Jewish settlers, amid increasing fears that settler attacks on Palestinians could escalate out of control, writes Sarah Helm.

The government, which has been criticised for using tough measures against Palestinian extremists while letting settlers off the hook, told the army to act with 'firmness' against settlers who disobey the law. The instruction contained a clear warning that settlements could now be placed under curfew if necessary, as well as Palestinian towns.

The move is certain to inflame the 130,000 settlers who live among 1.8 million Palestinians. Settlers are increasingly accusing the government of handing them over to the 'enemy' by giving the occupied territories over to Palestinian self-rule. It could also lead to violence between the army and settlers - many of whom serve in the military.

The move came as Jewish militants prepared to march on the West Bank town of Nablus last night.