Israel begins to take down settlements in West Bank


JERUSALEM, Reuters

Israeli security forces began to remove two Jewish settler outposts in the West Bank on Sunday shortly after Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer vowed to dismantle 10 of the rogue settlements by Monday.

“They are dismantling two outposts south of Hebron, one near the Beit Haggai settlement and a second near (the settlement of) Maaleh Hever,” an Israeli security source said.

The source said the removal of the outposts was apparently being done in cooperation with the Jewish settlers on the site. A settler spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

“As I said, by the first of the month (July), I announced that I expect 10 outposts will come down and by the 15th of the month more outposts will be removed,” Ben-Eliezer told reporters on Sunday.

Israeli media said the two outposts had not been inhabited and that additional settlements, established without government permission, in the northern West Bank were also expected to be removed in the coming days.

Israeli peace activists estimate that Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank have erected several dozen such solitary outposts — often consisting of only a few caravans linked by a dirt road — since the start of a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in September 2000.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government has pledged not to build new settlements since it took office in March 2001, but the largely right-wing coalition had so far balked at confronting a key constituency by removing outposts built without state permission.

Ben-Eliezer moved against the outposts after coming under fire from doves in his Labor Party over what they see as his adoption of Sharon’s right-wing policy line in the coalition government.

Palestinians say the outposts often become footholds for permanent settlements, taking root on lands they seek for an independent state. The international community widely regards Jewish settlement construction as illegal and an obstacle to peacemaking.