NEVE TSUF, West Bank – Jewish settlers occupied a remote site in the West Bank (search) early Sunday, then left after the Israeli army promised that it would close two local roads to Palestinians (search), the settlers said.
The brief encounter was just the latest in the cat-and-mouse game the army has been playing with the settlers.
Under terms of a U.S.-backed peace plan, Israel is to remove all outposts erected since March 1, 2001. Last week, soldiers tore down 10 tiny, empty hilltop outposts and three inhabited points, but settlers stopped removal of others by appealing to the Supreme Court.
On Sunday, the high court delayed the evacuation of an outpost next to the older settlement of Beit El, near the Palestinian town of Ramallah (search), court officials and settlers said, after an appeal by the settlers. Another hearing is set for Monday.
Over the weekend, about 200 settlers occupied an area outside the settlement of Neve Tsuf, also near Ramallah, to protest the shooting of two Jewish women by Palestinian gunmen on Friday. The women were wounded.
However, after a few hours, soldiers arrived and the settlers agreed to leave. Soldiers loaded a cargo container, the main structure at the rump settlement, onto a large, red flatbed truck and hauled it away from the site, accompanied by armored jeeps.
Settler spokesman Oded Stern said that in exchange, the army promised to ban Palestinians from stretches of road between Neve Tsuf and Beit Tilo, a Palestinian village, and the village of Beit Rima and the Ateret settlement -- a total of about 12 miles.
The military said the decision to close the Beit Rima-Ateret road was a response to Friday's attack, not the result of any deal with the settlers. The army said it knew nothing of a closure of the Neve Tsuf road.
Dror Etkes of the anti-settlement Peace Now movement charged that the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has deliberately refrained from aggressively removing outposts because it sympathizes with the settler movement. Sharon "has the power to deal with the settlers," Etkes said, "but not the will."
The group said settlers have established four more outposts in the West Bank in recent days after the military last week dismantled 10 such enclaves, in line with the road map.
Settlers have pledged to put up new outposts to replace the ones removed by the army. The settlers and their backers believe Israeli must hold on to the entire West Bank for security and religious reasons. As part of the biblical Land of Israel, they say, the West Bank cannot be banned for Jewish settlement.
Palestinians claim all of the West Bank -- seized by Israel in 1967 along with the Gaza Strip -- as part of a state they hope to create and consider all the settlements, not just the outposts, as illegal encroachment on their land.
After the evacuation of the Neve Tsuf outpost, settlers pledged to continue their struggle. "We are leaving today," Stern said. "But what happens tomorrow, I can't say."