Security Forces Evacuate Two Small Outposts in West Bank

Settlers flee first outpost, Harchivi, as police arrive; some 20 teenagers protest demolition of Shvut Ami.

Israel Defense Forces troops on Wednesday evacuated two makeshift settlement outposts in the West Bank, an incremental move against a major obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Police and army forces arrived at the first outpost, Harchivi, near the Palestinian town of Nablus, and the five people there fled at the sight of the forces, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. No arrests were made.

At the second outpost, Shvut Ami, in the same area, IDF forces wrecked one of two unfinished houses with a bulldozer.

Before the forces arrived, around 20 teenage protesters wearing skullcaps and sneakers gathered. They laid barbed wire and rocks on the road and posted signs with slogans reading, "The land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel."

"We want the nation to get behind us," said Yedidya Slonin, 17, one of the protesters. "We don't feel they're behind us right now but we hope they'll follow."

Some protesters lay down on the floor of one of the houses at the site, its rooms strewn with foul-smelling mattresses, old socks and paper plates.

"As they were lifted and taken away by police, one young woman shouted, "Why are you wasting your time? We'll be back!"

"Both outposts have been dismantled in the past," said Hagit Ofran, who tracks settlement growth for the dovish Israeli group Peace Now.

Israel promised under a 2003 peace plan to evacuate about two dozen outposts.

As part of the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, U.S. President George W. Bush pressed Israel last week to fulfill its commitment.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said earlier this week that the outposts' continued presence was a disgrace, but it was not clear if the government actually planned to make any significant move against them soon. Little action has been taken since he took power two years ago.

"Both of the outposts evacuated on Wednesday were thrown up by teenage settlers since the summer," Ofran said. "Both were lightly populated, and evacuating them was not a serious move against the more than 100unauthorized outposts that settlers have erected," she said.

"This is a children's game. They're playing tag with the army and the police," Ofran said.

Outposts range from a single trailer on a hill to thriving settlements with red-roofed homes and hundreds of people. Settlers put them up to prevent the transfer of the disputed land to the Palestinians in any future peace deal.

In February 2006, just weeks after taking office, Olmert sent police to tear down nine unauthorized homes in the Amona outpost, sparking violent clashes with settlers. That was his last serious move against outposts.

Settlers started putting up outposts across the West Bank after Israel committed to a settlement freeze in its initial peace accords with the Palestinians in the early 1990s. The outposts lack official authorization, but were built with the cooperation of Israeli authorities.

Some 3,000 Israelis live in outposts, according to Peace Now, along with 270,000 who live in 122 authorized settlements in the West Bank and 180,000 who live in east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after the 1967 Six-Day War.