Israeli Defense Minister Vows to Dismantle 10 Illegal Jewish Settlements

Ten illegal settlements in the West Bank will be dismantled in the next 24 hours, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Saturday.

Earlier in the week, Ben-Eliezer vowed to remove 20 of the hilltop outposts, even if he had to send in the army to forcibly remove the settlers, many of whom say they have a biblical right to the land they believe God gave the Jews.

"By the end of the day tomorrow, 10 outposts are to be taken down," Ben-Eliezer told a gathering of his Labor Party.

The Defense Ministry must approve any new settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — lands Israel occupied in the 1967 war and which Palestinians want for a future independent state. The illegal outposts have never received government approval.

Ben-Eliezer told Israeli television the outposts that will be dismantled initially are those that are most dangerous. Some are far removed from the larger settlements, have no security fence around them and consist of nothing more than a mobile home and an Israeli flag. The army has said the outposts are vulnerable to Palestinian attacks.

"These outposts ... are very remote and have very few people and this is in essence a serious security risk," Ben-Eliezer said.

Yarden Vatikai, Ben-Eliezer's spokesman, said the ministry was negotiating with representatives of the Settlers' Council to agree on which outposts to dismantle and when. He refused to say which outposts would be taken down.

"Tractors are not standing there with their engines running and if they (the settlers) don't come out we'll go in. The intention is to do it in the coming days and to do it with agreement," Vatikai said.

Peace Now, a leading watchdog of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has said that there are nearly 40 illegal outposts. Other organizations put the number higher. The discrepancy results from differing definitions of what is an illegal outpost.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak reached an agreement with the council in 1999 to dismantle several illegal outposts. But more than 100 settlers at a small ranch called Havat Maon refused to leave. Television pictures of soldiers dragging and carrying men, women and children onto buses were broadcast worldwide.

Since the start of a Palestinian uprising in September 2000, settlers have been targeted by militants. Several illegal outposts have been built — some just a caravan on a hilltop — in memory of settlers killed in the violence.

The army has said the outposts are vulnerable to Palestinian attack and difficult to protect.

A pregnant settler, her husband and a reserve soldier were killed in June in a Palestinian shooting attack on a mobile home community near the settlement of Karmei Tzur.