JERUSALEM – Jewish settlers clashed Monday with Israeli troops who came to tear down two structures at an unauthorized West Bank outpost, and a soldier was arrested for encouraging comrades to refuse to evacuate the settlement, the army said, in the first case of its kind.
Also Monday, Palestinian militants said Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's (search) call for an end to rocket attacks on Israel was "a stab in the back of the resistance."
One soldier was wounded and several settlers were arrested in the clashes at the tiny West Bank outpost Mitzpe Yizhar, which came amid increased tensions stemming from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's (search) plan to evacuate settlements in Gaza.
The arrested soldier, a resident of the settlement outpost, was from the same unit that carried out the demolition — but was on leave at the time, the army said.
The soldier, in uniform and carrying his rifle, refused to leave one of the structures and called on his comrades to refuse to carry out their orders, the army said.
Mitzpe Yizhar is a tiny, unauthorized satellite of the government-approved Yizhar settlement (search), which has a population of about 300 fiercely ultranationalist residents.
Settler leaders warned that hundreds of soldiers could refuse to carry out orders to evict Gaza Strip settlers, a sign of the difficulties the army could face in enforcing a withdrawal.
Sharon's plan to pull out of Gaza and four West Bank settlements has drawn stiff opposition from hard-liners in his own government and among Jewish settler groups.
At a meeting late Sunday, settler leaders told the army's top brass to prepare for the possibility of mass insubordination during the evacuation, adding that they were powerless to stop it.
"I have to be honest with the heads of the army about where the implementation of this draconian law will lead," settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein told Army Radio on Monday. "If there will be dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of insubordinates, it will take the state of Israel decades to rehabilitate its society."
Sharon responded that soldiers who refuse to carry out orders will be harshly punished, saying: "The law will be upheld."
Abbas — the front-runner in the Jan. 9 presidential election to replace Yasser Arafat — campaigned in Gaza for a third day, telling supporters that thousands of refugees displaced after Israel's establishment should be allowed to return to their former homes.
"We will never forget the rights of the refugees, and we will never forget their suffering. They will eventually gain their rights, and the day will come when the refugees return home," said Abbas, himself a refugee from Safed, now an Israeli city.
On Sunday, Abbas called on militants to stop firing rockets at Israel. On Monday, several Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas, released a joint statement demanding Abbas apologize for the statement.
The statement called Abbas' comments "a stab in the back to the resistance ... because the resistance has proved that this is the only way to respond to the crimes of the occupation."
Opinion polls show most Israelis support the plan to evacuate 8,200 Gaza Strip and 600 West Bank settlers. But many of the 230,000 Jewish settlers, led by religious ideologues who believe the West Bank and Gaza are the biblical birthright of the Jewish people, are strongly opposed.
With political efforts to sink the withdrawal foundering, opponents have turned to other means to scuttle the plan.
Last week, government officials overseeing the pullout were prevented from entering four West Bank settlements slated for evacuation when settlers blocked their bus by lying on the road holding infants to their chests.
On Monday, hundreds of Jewish settlers danced, sang and studied in the rain outside Israel's parliament in a sit-in protest against the withdrawal.
The demonstrators set up a tent, where they said they would eat, sleep and study for the next three weeks. Some used protest signs to shelter themselves from pouring rain, while others passed out bumper stickers with protest slogans.
The Palestinians "want to get rid of Israel and this is the first step for them," said Amy Rosenbluh, 53, a Jewish settler who immigrated from Cambridge, Mass.
The Settlers' Council has deemed it acceptable to break the law when opposing the evacuation plan but has said it does not support insubordination.
Some settler rabbis — who have great influence among religious settlers— have called on their followers serving in the army to refuse to carry out any evacuation orders.
Israeli officials have expressed concern about possible insubordination, especially with settlers filling prominent roles in the army's officers corps.
Speaking at a conference Sunday, Army chief Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon defined implementing the pullout plan as the army's greatest challenge this year, saying it "touches the open nerves of ideology, beliefs and way of life."
"With all the difficulties, we must be determined. If we don't succeed in implementing the decisions of the political level, there is a danger to us as a nation and a society," Yaalon said hours before meeting with the settler leaders.
"Insubordination can lead to disintegration and destruction. Anyone who fears for the fate of the state of Israel as a democratic, independent state should not even mention the word insubordination."
Also Monday, an armed Palestinian died from wounds suffered Sunday in a short Israeli security operation in northern Gaza aimed at ending persistent Palestinian rocket and mortar fire on Israeli towns.