A Jewish settler resists being taken away by Israeli security forces in Amona on February 1, 2017
A Jewish settler resists being taken away by Israeli security forces in Amona on February 1, 2017 © Thomas Coex - AFP
A Jewish settler resists being taken away by Israeli security forces in Amona on February 1, 2017
Last updated: January 1, 1970

West Bank settlement outpost hardliners hold out

Israeli police forced hardline Jewish settlers from the barricaded synagogue of a wildcat outpost in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, completing an emotive battle to evict residents.

The operation, by hundreds of police at the Amona outpost near Ramallah, was the final act of a drama which prompted the government to pledge building a new settlement for the first time in 25 years.

Israel has now approved more than 6,000 homes for settlers since US President Donald Trump took office having signalled a softer stance on settlement construction than predecessor Barack Obama.

Officers had struggled for hours to break into the prayer hall to remove the last holdouts in the push launched on Wednesday on 200 to 300 people trying to block clearance of the outpost ordered by the Israeli Supreme Court.

The court ruled in November 2014 that the outpost was built illegally on private Palestinian land but settlers, who have a powerful voice in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition government, won repeated postponements.

Police had tried to negotiate the voluntary departure of dozens of what they called "anarchists" who barricaded themselves inside a synagogue, but entered the building after talks broke down.

Broadcast live by Israeli radio and TV, the events were the culmination of years of political, legal and human drama.

Police had to force their way through metal plates and wooden beams which barred the synagogue doors and windows, advancing behind riot shields and wearing protective googles against protesters' spit and showers of corrosive liquid and projectiles.

Inside, dozens of young men formed a human barricade.

Police eventually made their entry by cutting through the prefabricated structure with a power saw and once inside carried out one protester at a time.

Hundreds of young religious-nationalists had slipped past army roadblocks early on Wednesday in a show of support for Amona residents.

They were fired by the belief that the West Bank, the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, is Israeli according to the Bible, regardless of what Israeli judges, Palestinians or the international community says.

"We are leaving here with a broken heart," Amona Rabbi Yair Frank told reporters in the empty synagogue after the eviction.

"We did it all for the land of Israel and the people of Israel."

- Arrests -

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said eight officers were injured in Thursday's confrontation after 24 were hurt the day before.

"Fourteen people were arrested yesterday and we are counting the arrests for today," he told AFP.

Amona's buildings are to be razed next week, he said.

Settlers complained that police used excessive force.

Eliana Passentin, a spokeswoman for the Benjamin Regional Council which covers settlements in the Amona region, said police were being "very violent" on Thursday, "very different from yesterday."

"We condemn violence on both sides but people here have a right for peaceful civil disobedience."

The demolition could also usher in what Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman called "a new era" for settlement building.

Netanyahu pledged Wednesday the formation of a group to quickly find a site for a new settlement for the evicted Amona residents.

"We shall establish a new settlement on state land," he reiterated in a tweet on Thursday.

"We shall work in order that this will happen as soon as possible."

- New settlements -

All Israeli governments since 1967 have built settlements but none has formally created a new outpost since 1992, before the Oslo peace accords signed with the Palestinians, said settlement expert Hagit Ofran of the Peace Now NGO.

She called the announcement "very dramatic," saying that since 1992 the settler population grew only by construction within existing settlements or by retroactive approval of outposts such as Amona, formed without formal government sanction.

Hardliners within the governing coalition -- viewed as Israel's most right-wing ever -- had bitterly opposed the eviction and spent months trying to pass legislation to overturn the court order.

The United Nations considers all Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land illegal and regards their construction as the biggest obstacle to a peaceful settlement of the conflict.

Israel seized both the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day war and has since moved about 600,000 of its citizens onto land the Palestinians want for their own state.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned Wednesday that the quickening expansion of Jewish settlements risked making a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict impossible.

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