JERUSALEM – Israeli police clashed with Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron early Sunday, leaving at least eight people wounded, as hundreds of forces prepared to evict a group of settlers illegally occupying a Palestinian home.
The evacuation provided an important test for the new government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who plans a broad pullout from the West Bank during his term.
Olmert was widely criticized for his handling of the evacuation of a tiny outpost in February while he headed a caretaker government. More than 200 police and teenage protesters were injured, and critics accused police of using excessive force.
Police said the fighting erupted Sunday when officers cleared out a crowd of protesters gathered outside the home. Five police and three settlers were injured, police said. Details on their conditions weren't immediately available.
Police were bracing for even stiffer resistance during the evacuation. Dozens of youths have entered the home in recent days to reinforce resistance.
Hundreds of security forces took up positions in Hebron overnight to prepare for the operation. After the clashes broke out, further reinforcements were called to the scene, police said.
Hebron, a city that is holy to Jews and Muslims, is home to about 160,000 Palestinians and some 500 Jewish settlers living in heavily fortified enclaves.
The Hebron settlers are among the most ultranationalist in the West Bank, and have scuffled with Israeli security forces in recent days ahead of the evacuation.
The Supreme Court had initially ordered the squatters removed by Friday. However, the order was extended because of the Jewish sabbath Saturday.
About a month ago, three settler families moved into an abandoned home near the settler enclave of Avraham Avinu, presenting documents allegedly showing they had rented the property from its Palestinian owner. Israeli authorities later determined the documents were forged, Israeli media reported.
Olmert plans to withdraw from much of the West Bank in an effort to draw Israel's final borders by 2010. He says the move, which would mean uprooting tens of thousands of settlers from their homes, are needed to improve Israel's security and guarantee its future as a Jewish democracy.
Settlers bitterly oppose the plan. Many of them are observant Jews who say the land is promised to the Jewish people by God.
Settlers also resisted last summer's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, though no serious violence was reported.