Evacuation of illegal outpost turns violent, injuring eight Israeli police

Published February 2nd, 2017 - 03:00 GMT
Israeli police guard Israeli settlers on the second day of an Israeli police operation to evict the hardline occupants and their supporters from the West Bank settler outpost of Amona on February 2, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
Israeli police guard Israeli settlers on the second day of an Israeli police operation to evict the hardline occupants and their supporters from the West Bank settler outpost of Amona on February 2, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

At least eight officers were injured Thursday as Israeli police began to break down the barricades set up at the entrance of an unauthorized outpost's synagogue in the West Bank.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said protesters attacked officers with stones, bottles and wooden boards.

Officers moved to forcibly enter the synagogue in the Amona settlement after 200 demonstrators holed up inside did not agree to leave peacefully after hours of deliberation, Samri said.

Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called the protesters "unworthy hooligans" with "no respect for religion."

Since the evacuation began on Wednesday, a total of 32 police officers have been injured and 13 people arrested, police said, adding that more than 800 people were removed from the area.

Israel's top court ruled in 2014 that the hilltop outpost of Amona, with 280 residents and located some 20 kilometres north of Jerusalem, was built on land belonging to Palestinians from surrounding West Bank towns and had to be vacated by February 8.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that he was establishing a team tasked with building a new settlement for the evacuees.

According to a spokeswoman from the human rights group Peace Now, 
it would be the first time since 1992 that the government officially established a new settlement in the West Bank. The settlements have in the meanwhile grown through the expansion of already established outposts or through retroactive legalization.

Late Tuesday, Netanyahu also approved more than 3,000 houses in West Bank settlements, including 2,000 set for immediate construction.

Hanan Ashrawi, a top Palestinian Liberation Organization official, said Wednesday that Netanyahu was "destroying the very foundations of the two-state solution" and called for international intervention.

"We cannot afford four more years as Israel rushes to complete the unjust and illegal transformation and ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem and the final annexation of the occupied West Bank," she said, referring to the four-year term of new US President Donald Trump.

Israel, emboldened by a new US administration widely perceived as pro-settlement, has approved more than 5,000 new housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the days since former US president Barack Obama left office.

A bill to retroactively legalize settlements in the West Bank - sparing them the same fate as Amona - is currently winding its way through the Knesset. Amona was specifically excluded from the bill as a political compromise in order to increase its chances of passing.

"We lost the battle over Amona, but we are winning the war for the land of Israel," said Education Minister Naftali Bennett, one of the bill's backers, on Wednesday. "We knew that we were going to war against all the odds, but we didn't give up," he added.

However, even with the exclusion of Amona, the bill, if passed, is unlikely to make it past Israel's Supreme Court. All settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories are considered illegal under international law, though the Israeli government disagrees.

Amona's existence has been a point of contention for years. An attempt in 2006 to evacuate the outpost founded in 1996 by settlers from nearby Ofra led to clashes, and only nine buildings were razed.

In 2008, the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to remove all the homes on the basis that they were built on land owned by local Palestinians.

After granting multiple delay requests by the Israeli government for more time to relocate people, the Supreme Court in December 2014 set a two-year deadline for the removal of the settlers from Amona.

© 2022 dpa GmbH

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