JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli military is introducing orders that human rights activists said on Sunday could make almost any Palestinian liable for expulsion from the occupied West Bank.
In a statement, the army played down any notion of mass deportation, saying the orders simply amended existing Israeli regulations to assure military "judicial oversight" in the extradition of anyone "residing illegally" in the West Bank.
The orders, which go into effect on Tuesday, were posted on an army website and allow for the deportation, in some cases in less than 72 hours, of an "infiltrator" -- defined as someone who does not hold an Israeli permit to reside in the West Bank.
Existing regulations had defined "infiltrator" as someone who had stayed illegally in Israel after having passed through countries it considers its enemy.
Ten Israeli rights groups condemned the orders, saying in a statement that the vast majority of Palestinians in the West Bank, territory Israel occupied in a 1967 war, have never been required to hold an Israeli-issued residency permit.
"The military will be able to prosecute and deport any Palestinian defined as an infiltrator in stark contradiction to the Geneva Convention," the statement said.
Offenders could face a jail sentence of up to seven years.
The groups said they feared the broad wording of the orders could enable the military to expel tens of thousands of Palestinians, mainly people born in the Gaza Strip and their West Bank-born children.
Palestinians say some 25,000 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip live in the West Bank. The Gaza Strip is politically and geographically cut off from the West Bank. It is ruled by Hamas Islamists who do not recognise Israel.
Foreigners, including international activists who join Palestinians demonstrating against Israel in the West Bank, could also fall under the "infiltrator" category.
"These military orders belong in an apartheid state," Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement.
"Extensive in scope, they make it infinitely easier for Israel to imprison and expel Palestinians from the West Bank," he said.
The orders provide for an appeals process in which adults served notice of deportation can take their case within eight days to a panel of military judges. But some notices can be executed in less than 72 hours.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Joseph Nasr, Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Ramallah, Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)