The remote-controlled turrets can fire tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinian protesters
Israel has deployed new robotic weapons in the West Bank amid heightened tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Remote-controlled guns capable of firing tear gas, stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets have been installed in the city of Hebron and at the massive Al-Aroub refugee camp, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
The turrets are mounted on special guard towers equipped with surveillance cameras. The guns themselves also have their own cameras and are remotely operated by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers inside the towers, the news agency said. According to AP, the guns also use artificial intelligence to track their targets.
The weapons were placed in the two hotspots that have recently seen regular clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers. Now, if crowds take to the streets hurling stones and fire bombs at Israeli troops, the turrets in the towers will unleash a barrage of tear gas and sponge-tipped bullets, sources told the news agency.
Israel insists the new systems will help to save the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, adding that the systems are being tested at this stage and only use "non-lethal" ammunition for crowd control. Palestinians fear that the weapon systems could be misused or hacked, AP said, adding that locals have also warned that their use could lead to potentially lethal situations.
"We are not a training and simulation for Israeli companies," a Hebron Palestinian activist, Issa Amro, told the news agency, adding that such practices "must be stopped." Shopkeeper Hussein al-Muzyeen from Al-Aroub camp is quoted as saying that the area now regularly ends up covered in tear gas. "We don't open the window, we don't open the door. We know not to open anything," he explained.
The turrets deployed in the West Bank were developed by the Smart Shooter company - an enterprise boasting contracts with a number of the world's militaries, including the US Army. It specializes in increasing "the accuracy, lethality, and situational awareness of small arms."
In October, the UN warned that this year could be "the deadliest" for Palestinians in the West Bank. A total of 32 Palestinians including six children have been killed since the start of the year by Israeli security forces during demonstrations, clashes, search-and-arrest raids, attacks and alleged attacks against Israelis, Tor Wennesland, the special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said at that time.