Israeli Police Clear Squatters From Former West Bank Settlement

Hundreds of Israeli police in riot gear dragged squatters from the ruins of a Jewish settlement Wednesday, ending a three-day showdown between the government and settlers trying to re-establish the settlement.

The confrontation took place in the former Homesh settlement, dismantled in the summer of 2005 as part of Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank.

Some 2,500 protesters marched to Homesh on Monday, pledging to rebuild it. Demonstrators set up large canvas tents and started piling up rocks, in a symbolic attempt at reconstruction.

About 500 were still there when hundreds of riot police moved in Wednesday morning, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. Some packed up their tents and left voluntarily, Rosenfeld said. Others resisted.

The troops began dragging some protesters away, with four officers carrying each demonstrator — one holding each limb — and placing them on waiting buses, a scene reminiscent of the original 2005 evacuation.

In one scene, police pried a toddler from the hands of her mother, who refused to walk to a waiting bus with the child. As a policeman carried the shrieking child, four others lifted the mother by her limbs.

Demonstrators frequently bring their children to such protests in an effort to complicate evacuations. Many of the demonstrators at the ruins of Homesh on Wednesday were teen-agers and children.

Several hours later, all the protesters had been removed, Rosenfeld said.

Demonstrators said they'd be back.

"They won't expel us, we will return!" chanted several youths wearing large yarmulkes as they pounded their fists in the air from the windows of a bus.

"Our goal is not to clash but to return again and again and again until the flag of Israel will once again fly over the lands we were expelled from, because all the country understands now that the disengagement, the expulsion, was a mistake," Yossi Dagan, one of the squatters, told Israel Army Radio.

Homesh was one of four settlements in the northern West Bank dismantled in 2005.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was elected last year on a pledge to evacuate additional West Bank settlements and draw Israel's borders without waiting for a peace deal with the Palestinians. However, he shelved the divisive plan after emerging politically weakened from Israel's war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon last summer.

While removing the Homesh squatters, the Israeli government has shown far less resolve in evacuating settlers who have set up dozens of unauthorized settlement outposts in the past decade. Government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said Wednesday that Israel would remove the outposts.

"The government is committed to the removal of all illegal outposts," Eisin said. "We prefer to do it through dialogue and if that does not work then we will use other ways."

Israel had promised, as part of the U.S.-backed road map peace plan, to evacuate many of the outposts, but has failed to do so. Also, construction continues in large settlements near Israel, despite Israel's promise to freeze expansion.