Clashes erupt as Israeli police evict hardline settlers
RAMALLAH - Israeli police clashed Wednesday with Jewish settlers resisting the eviction of hardline residents of a wildcat outpost, hours after the government authorised 3,000 new homes in other West Bank settlements.
Israel has issued a series of approvals for new settler homes since US President Donald Trump took office less than two weeks ago having signalled a softer stance on Israeli settlement building.
The latest authorisation was seen as a sop to supporters of the Amona outpost, where hundreds of police officers moved in to carry out evictions after the High Court determined the homes were built on private Palestinian land.
Minor clashes broke out as hundreds of settlers faced off against security forces during an operation that marked the end of months of attempts by government hardliners to legalise the outpost near Ramallah.
Hundreds of supporters of the settlers had earlier slipped past army roadblocks on foot and set fire to tyres and furniture.
Some residents resisted by barricading themselves indoors, with a few throwing stones, but many quietly packed their possessions to leave.
One woman fought back tears as she carried her baby out of her house for the last time.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said there were around 3,000 officers in and around Amona to move the 42 families.
He estimated that another 600 people who were not from the outpost had arrived to support those being evicted.
- Injuries, arrests -
Police said they were "attacked by anarchists with materials that made their eyes burn," adding that more than a dozen officers were "lightly wounded by stones and the liquids thrown at them."
At least four protesters were arrested.
Youths confronted the forces with chants such as "How will you feel tomorrow after you evacuate a Jew from his home?" and "Today it's me, tomorrow it will be you," as police began evacuating them from the area.
Teenage girls wrote slogans about their right to the land of Israel on the walls of the caravan homes, soon to be demolished.
"We won't be going, they'll have to take us," Amona resident Rivka Lafair, 19, said.
Far-right lawmaker Moti Yogev, whose Jewish Home party is part of Israel's governing coalition, joined the settlers in a show of solidarity.
He said that the demolition of the outpost was "a bad decision" but that the new homes announced by the defence ministry late on Tuesday were some compensation.
"Yes, Amona will be destroyed, but against Amona we are going to build 3,000 new homes," he said.
- 'A new era' -
Israel makes a distinction between the settlements it has approved and unauthorised outposts.
The international community considers all Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land as illegal and regards their construction as the biggest obstacle to a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
The United Nations expressed concern at the settlement expansions in the occupied West Bank.
"We once again warn against any unilateral actions that can be an obstacle to a negotiated two-state solution and call on both parties to return to meaningful negotiations," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
In a significant break with the Obama administration, Trump's White House has not condemned any of the four settlement expansions announced by Israel since he took office.
They will add more than 6,000 homes for Jewish settlers -- 566 housing units in three settlement neighbourhoods of annexed east Jerusalem and 5,502 more elsewhere in the West Bank.
According to the defence ministry, 2,000 of the latest new homes are ready to be put on the market, while the rest are in various stages of planning.
"We're in a new era where life in Judaea and Samaria (the West Bank) is returning to its natural course," said Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has himself long lived in a West Bank settlement.
Speaking at West Bank city Ariel on Wednesday, Lieberman said his heart was with the Amona settlers, but stressed their protest must "remain within the law".
More than 50 other outposts could be legalised by Israel's government in the coming days as a controversial bill is expected to be passed by parliament.
Pro-settler movements hope Amona will be the exception rather than the rule for the coming years.
"Americans voted for Trump because they were sick of political correctness in the US and in losing American identity throughout the US. We feel the same pain," said longtime Amona resident Eli Greenberg.
"The world is changing. We hope that Amona will be the last."