JERUSALEM -- The Israeli army said yesterday that to combat a wave of shootings of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, it was relaxing the rules under which soldiers are allowed to shoot in threatening situations.
Four settlers have been killed and several wounded in a series of shooting ambushes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since October. The attacks, coinciding with the start of the Middle East peace talks, are thought by the army to be the work of radical Palestinian groups opposed to the negotiations.
Military officials said the new regulations would make it easier for soldiers to fire at Palestinians who are armed or who are being sought by security forces on suspicion of violent offenses.
Existing orders require soldiers to shout warnings, fire in the air and then at the legs before shooting directly at fleeing suspects.
"In view of the intensification of terrorist actions in the territories, open-fire orders have been clarified and broadened to enable our forces to respond appropriately to life-threatening situations," the army stated. "The wider permission to open fire applies to life-threatening situations and is granted according to law."
Since the start of the 4-year-old uprising in the occupied territories, the army has gradually loosened restrictions on the use of gunfire. Regulations have been changed to allow soldiers to shoot at masked men and at rioters hurling gasoline bombs and setting up roadblocks.
Jewish settlers in the occupied territories have in recent weeks pressed the government to further loosen the so-called open-fire orders as part of a comprehensive crackdown on Arab attacks.