Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he would eject a foreign force set up to help safeguard Palestinians in a flashpoint city in the West Bank, accusing the observers of anti-Israel activity.
"We will not allow the continued presence of an international force that acts against us," Netanyahu said in a statement announcing that the Temporary International Presence in Hebron's (TIPH) mandate would not be renewed.
The statement did not elaborate on the alleged misconduct of TIPH, which draws staff from Norway, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey. The TIPH website says the force works on six-month mandates but did not specify when the current one expires.
A force spokesman declined comment. Palestinians denounced the move.
"The Israeli government's decision means it has abandoned the implementation of agreements signed under international auspices, and given up its obligations under these agreements," said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose peace talks with Netanyahu stalled in 2014. Conservative Israeli commentators had accused the TIPH of agitating against Jewish settlers who live under heavy Israeli army protection in Hebron, a biblical city with an overwhelmingly Palestinian populace.
The TIPH was set up after a settler killed 29 Palestinians at a Hebron shrine holy to both Muslims and Jews in 1994.
Since Israel partially withdrew from Hebron in 1998 under interim peace deals with the self-rule Palestinian Authority, the TIPH has "observe(d) and report(ed) on breaches of the agreements (and) violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law," the force's website says.
Most world powers consider Israel's settlements in the West Bank, where Palestinians want a state, to be illegal. Israel disputes this, and the rightist Netanyahu has played up his pro-settler credentials as he seeks reelection in an April 9 ballot.
"They want to uproot us from here. They will not," he said in separate remarks on Monday at another West Bank settlement.
"There's a line of thought that says that the way to achieve peace with the Arabs is to be extirpated from our land. That is the certain path to achieving the opposite of this dream."