Israeli police: 23 officers hurt by stone-throwing settlers

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Israeli police faced stiff resistance early Thursday as they tried to dismantle mobile homes of settlers who had moved back into an illegal West Bank outpost, with 23 officers lightly injured by stone-throwing settlers.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the Israeli troops were enforcing a court-ordered evacuation of two homes, popularly called caravans, when they were pelted with rocks and stones from some of the 300 protesters in Amona, in the northern West Bank. One officer was stabbed with a sharp object. Police dragged away several protesters with bleeding cuts.

Rosenfeld said police responded with non-lethal means and arrested seven settlers on the scene. Dozens of mattresses remained strewn about the abandoned structures.

The outpost was dismantled two years ago after the Supreme Court ruled that it had been built on private Palestinians land. The Israeli government has promised to build a new settlement to replace it. Amona has become a rallying cry for extreme settlers and a small group returned there recently in protest, amid an outburst of Palestinian violence.

"We will come back here because we love this place and we feel this is our home," said Oren Amitai, a settler from Amona. "We hope, we pray, that sooner or later the government will agree that we bought this land."

The Palestinians and most of the international community consider Israeli settlements to be illegal and obstacles to peace. Over 400,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank, in addition to 200,000 in east Jerusalem. The Palestinians seek both areas, captured by Israel in 1967, as parts of their state.

Thursday's events came amid a highly partisan election campaign, with various camps seizing on the incident to stake out positions.

Hard-line Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett, who this week broke off from the pro-settler Jewish Home party to start a new right-wing movement, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to also demolish the illegally built Palestinian encampment of Khan al-Ahmar.

"The law is the law is the law," he said. "The selective enforcement against only Jews in Amona, in the face of the fear of evacuating illegal and unrestrained Arab construction in Khan al-Ahmar, portrays the Israeli government's weakness and hesitation."

Alternatively, Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, denounced the assault on law enforcement officers.

"The violence in Amona is a result of the fact that the rioters think they have political backing from within the coalition," he said. "Whoever acts wildly needs to be evacuated and restrained without hesitation."