Officials Fear West Bank Fight

Dozens of settlers scuffled with Israeli soldiers and slashed the tires of army jeeps Sunday trying to disrupt the government's preparations for evacuating this West Bank (search) settlement.

While Israel's pullout from Gaza settlements was swift and relatively smooth, officials feared 2,000 ultranationalists camped out in Sanur (search) and the nearby settlement of Homesh (search) would put up fiercer — and possibly violent — resistance.

People holed up at the two isolated hilltop settlements worked on defenses against thousands of soldiers expected to come to remove them this week, and repeatedly harassed security forces in the area, security officials said.

Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the army chief, said the settlers were stockpiling weapons.

"There are stun grenades, and things of that sort. I hope there are no bombs," he told Israel TV. "This is worrisome, that a group of extremists can set the agenda in the state of Israel."

Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (search) "disengagement" plan, Israel is dismantling all 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four small settlements in the northern West Bank.

Israeli forces had cleared all but one of the Gaza settlements by Sunday night, just five days after they began the operation. Residents of two of the doomed West Bank settlements, Ganim and Kadim, already evacuated voluntarily.

Many of the 105 residents of Sanur and the 230 settlers at Homesh left as well, but they were replaced by an estimated 2,000 ultranationalists, many living in tents, who chose to use the settlements to make a last stand against the pullout.

For many Israelis, dismantling the West Bank settlements is more painful than the pullout from Gaza, with its more tenuous ties to the biblical land of Israel. Sanur, for example, lies in the Dotan Valley, where the Bible says Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers.

"We are going to cling to the ground, because this is our land," said Yedidya Lerner, 25, a recent transplant to Homesh.

Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, said about 8 percent of the 230,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank were loose cannons who recognize no authority, neither rabbis nor the state.

"They have no limits, and will do everything they can, including the use of violence" to stop the withdrawal, he said on Israel TV.

Sanur was once an artist colony for Russian immigrants. Now, its bright yellow front gate is reinforced with razor wire

Protesters refused to allow reporters into Sanur on Sunday, screaming at them to go away, but people could be seen working on the roof of an old British fort inside the settlement. Israeli media reports said it was expected to be the center of resistance.

Earlier Sunday, about 100 people, mainly teenagers, ran out of the settlement and attacked army bulldozers trying to level ground to create a staging area for the evacuation. A small group of soldiers that tried to carry off one of the attackers was overwhelmed by the swarming settlers, some of whom lunged at the soldiers and threw them to the ground.

Some of the protesters pulled out knives and slashed the tires of at least three army jeeps. Police and the military said 10 officers were lightly injured.

Violence also erupted outside Homesh, about 3 miles south of Sanur, when a group of settlers fought with troops preparing for the evacuation, injuring one soldier slightly, the army said.

Watching some of his troops change all four slashed tires on his jeep outside Sanur, Maj. Ali Arieday said he feared resisters would become far more violent when the army arrived to evict them.

"I'm afraid they can use shotguns, and guns and knives," he said.

Settler leader Bentzi Lieberman, who traveled to the two settlements after the scuffles, said he did not believe that would happen.

"If they use violence, we won't be there with them," he said.