Rightist protesters scuffled with Israeli police carrying out a court order to evict settlers from an illegal outpost in the occupied West Bank Wednesday, hours after the government announced more construction in larger settlements.
Around 330 Israeli settlers live in Amona, the largest of scores of outposts built in the West Bank without official authorization. The Supreme Court ruled in November, after a lengthy legal battle, that settlers had to leave Amona because their homes were built on privately-owned Palestinian land.
With no weapons visible, but wearing backpacks, hundreds of police walked past burning tyres and pushed back against dozens of nationalist Israeli youths who flocked to Amona in support of the settlers.
Several protesters were detained by police during the scuffles and there were a few instances of stone-throwing. A police spokesmen said at least 10 officers were injured slightly by rocks and caustic liquid thrown at them. "A Jew doesn't evict a Jew!" the youngsters chanted.
The Amona settlers themselves stayed largely put inside their homes after erecting makeshift barriers in front of their doors and vowing passive resistance to eviction.
"We won't leave our homes on our own. Pull us out, and we'll go," one settler told reporters. "It is a black day for Zionism."
On a nearby hilltop, Issa Zayed, a Palestinian who said he was one of the owners of the land on which Amona was built, watched the scene through binoculars. "With God's help, it will be evacuated and our land will return to us," he said.
In 2006 Amona saw a violent partial eviction, with nine shacks torn down by authorities. Police were confronted by thousands of settlers and more than 200 people were injured. Most countries consider all Israeli settlements to be illegal. Israel disagrees, citing historical and political links to the land - which the Palestinians also assert - as well as security interests.
The Amona issue had caused tensions within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government. But they eased after he got behind a law proposed by the Jewish Home party, a far-right political ally, to retroactively legalize dozens of outposts. This would not apply to Amona because of the existing court decision.
"We have lost the battle over Amona but we are winning the campaign for the Land of Israel," cabinet minister and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett tweeted after the evacuation began. The legislation is expected to be passed in parliament next week. It is opposed, however, by Israel's attorney-general and legal experts predict it eventually would be overturned in court.
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