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Soldiers Support Officer Over Activist Attack

More than 80 Israeli soldiers and reservists have signed a petition of support for a military commander who was filmed assaulting a Danish pro-Palestinian activist.

Lieutenant Colonel Shalom Eisner was suspended after the video emerged showing him hitting Andreas Ias in the face with an M16 rifle as he tried to disperse a demonstration.

The incident happened on Saturday when a group of foreign and Palestinian cyclists attempted to block a main road near Jericho to protest against Israel's occupation of the West Bank.

Lt Col Eisner told military investigators that two of his fingers had been broken in an attack by the Danish campaigner before he retaliated with his weapon.

Mr Ias, an activist with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement , responded that any claims that he had used violence were a "complete lie".

The Palestinian cameraman who filmed the incident also insisted that the activists had been conducting an entirely peaceful protest. Several other activists were reported to have been injured in scuffles with Israeli troops.

In a letter to the Chief of Staff of Israel's military, Lt General Benny Gantz, 83 soldiers, officers and reservists who have served under Lt Col Eisner said that he was a "moral and ethical" commander.

They called for his years of military service, upholding Israel's "values", to be taken into account.

The Israeli Defence Forces have removed Lt Col Eisner from his position as deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Territorial brigade while the investigation continues.

Denmark's ambassador to Israel has called for the Israeli military to provide clarification following the incident.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned the officer's actions saying: "Such behaviour has no place in the Israeli defence forces or in the state of Israel."

President Shimon Peres has expressed his "shock" at the attack.