BEIRUT

Middle East

Settlers evacuated from large West Bank outpost

An Israeli soldier stands at the gate of the West Bank settlement of Migron on August 30, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/GALI TIBBON)

MIGRON OUTPOST, West Bank: Israel completed evacuation of a large unauthorized West Bank settlement outpost on Sunday, culminating years of legal wrangling in a case that has become a rallying cry for hardline settler groups opposed to any withdrawal from occupied land claimed by the Palestinians.

By midday, all of Migron's roughly 300 residents had left, authorities said, two days ahead of a court-ordered deadline to clear out.

The fate of Jewish settlements lies at the heart of a three-year impasse in Mideast peace efforts. The Palestinians refuse to negotiate while Israel continues to expand settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem,

territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians for a future state. They say the settlement construction is a show of bad faith.

Most of Migron's residents left voluntarily and peacefully, but officers dragged out a few youths who had holed themselves up in an evacuated trailer home. At another white prefab home, where a toy tractor and a bicycle with training wheels were left discarded outside, several youths climbed to the roof waving a large Israeli flag and refused to come down.

Authorities began loading residents' belongings onto large trucks, to be moved to temporary dwellings in an area settlement before Migron residents move into new homes elsewhere in the West Bank just a few kilometers (miles) away as part of a compromise with the residents.

Altogether, police arrested eight youths, all of them non-residents who came to Migron to protest the eviction. There were no reports of injuries.

Some 500,000 Israelis now live on lands the Palestinians want for a future state, nearly all of them in east Jerusalem or full-fledged settlements in the West Bank.

But several thousand live in the dozens of unauthorized outposts that dot the West Bank. Israel has repeatedly promised to remove unauthorized outposts, but in reality taken very little action. In many cases, officials have even been complicit, hooking up outposts to the power grid and providing access roads for the residents.

The international community considers both the wildcat outposts and the other settlements illegitimate.

Built in 2001 by ultranationalist Israelis just 15 kilometers (10 miles) north of Jerusalem, Migron is among the largest outposts, and was widely seen as a symbol of the government's refusal or inability to confront the powerful settler lobby.

Last year, Israel's Supreme Court determined the outpost was built on private Palestinian land and must be dismantled, but petitions by the government and settlers delayed the pullout until now. After approving several delays in recent months, the Supreme Court last week set Tuesday as the final deadline.

In a text message from the Prime Minister's office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his support for settlement - an issue dear to his base - despite having carried out, eventually, the court-ordered evacuation.

"We are committed to respecting the rule of law and we are committed to strengthening the settlement enterprise," he said.

"The pain is very great," said longtime settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein on Israel Radio. But Migron settler spokesman Itai Hemo told Army Radio that "there are many paths to victory," vowing Migron's evacuation would lead to two new settlements.

Anti-settlement activist Hagit Ofran of the dovish group Peace Now, who brought the Migron case to the Israeli court, also claimed victory.

Israeli settlers "are used to putting facts on the ground which become Israeli policy. We managed to prove that they are not above the law," Ofran said.

Israeli officials have worked to avoid the messy spectacle of forced evacuation that took place with previous settlement pullouts.

Also on Sunday, Israeli police said they arrested three Arab men suspected of having poisoned an Israeli family, a crime that police said was politically motivated.

The three men - one Palestinian and two Arab citizens of Israel - are accused of breaking into the family's home last year and lacing a bottle of water with poison, from which the family members drank.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a gag order on the case was lifted Sunday, but the men were arrested last month. The suspects are to be charged with attempted murder, he said.

Attacks by Palestinians on Israelis have become less frequent in recent years, but the poisoning incident was especially rare.

 

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