AMONA OUTPOST, West Bank – Hundreds of right-wing protesters poured into this Jewish outpost Tuesday, laying barbed wire and cement blocks to thwart Israeli troops preparing to uproot part of the West Bank settlement.
Israel planned to send 7,000 troops and police officers to clear out Amona, in what would be the first forced evacuation of Jewish settlers since last summer's pullout from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank. Military officials predicted stiff resistance during the evacuation, which was expected to begin Wednesday.
Since the mid-1990s, settlers have established dozens of unauthorized outposts to prevent the transfer of disputed land to the Palestinians, who claim all the West Bank as part of a future state.
Under the internationally backed "road map" peace plan, Israel has committed to dismantle about two dozen outposts but so far has taken little action. The army operation will remove only part of the outpost.
Amona is north of Jerusalem, near the Palestinian town of Ramallah. The army operation plans to remove nine stone cottages, but authorities will leave intact mobile homes housing some 40 families, military officials said.
Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh, the army's West Bank commander, said the army expected the protesters to resist with similar tactics used during the Gaza "disengagement."
During the Gaza pullout, hundreds of settlers holed up in synagogues and homes, forcing soldiers to drag them away. In several instances, the settlers threw objects and chemicals, though no serious injuries were reported.
"Will there be violence of the level of the disengagement? I am afraid there will be more," Naveh told Israeli troops, Israel Radio reported late Monday. "Are we preparing for extreme situations? The answer is yes."
The security forces will include elite commando units armed with clubs and helmets who expect to make a large number of arrests, Naveh said.
The army set up roadblocks Monday to prevent large-scale infiltrations into Amona. But by Tuesday morning hundreds of opponents of the evacuation — most of them teenagers — had flooded into the hilltop community and the nearby settlement of Ofra.
Several youths laid barbed wire and cement blocks on the roofs of some of the nine permanent buildings in the outpost where they apparently planned to resist evacuation.
About 300 youths forced their way Tuesday into an army outpost near Amona and tried to sabotage military bulldozers, the army said. The youths left after leaders from the nearby settlement of Ofra persuaded them to do so, the army said.
Also Tuesday, eight Jewish settler families left an outpost set up in a Palestinian market in the West Bank city of Hebron after receiving assurances they could return, Israeli media reported. Israeli defense officials confirmed Monday they had reached an agreement with the settlers that the squatters would leave voluntarily and be allowed to return legally later.
But assistant state prosecutor Shai Nitzan told Army Radio that no such deal had been reached and any verbal agreements would not stand up in court. Legal reviews of the property found that it belongs to Hebron's Palestinian city hall and Palestinian merchants, Nitzan told the radio.
About 500 Jewish settlers live in heavily guarded enclaves in Hebron among 160,000 Palestinians. The city where Muslims, Jews and Christians believe biblical patriarchs are buried is divided between Israeli and Palestinian sections.