Troops End Sa-Nur Evacuation by Storming Fortified Citadel Roof

Troops lowered onto roof by cranes, spray protesters with tear gas; all rooftop protesters to be arrested.

Security forces completed the evacuation of the northern West Bank settlement of Sa-Nur on Tuesday afternoon when riot control troops were lifted in two containers and stormed the roof of the old British citadel to remove pullout opponents just after 3 P.M.

As protesters attempted to prevent the containers from landing on the roof, firefighters assisted security forces by directing high-pressure hoses at the protesters. Police in the containers eventually sprayed protesters with tear gas to disperse them and then landed on the rooftop.

Immediately after landing on the roof, officers videotaped those who had barricaded themselves on the roof, many of whom were armed with iron rods, ladders, long wooden poles and shields.

Troops then stood by quietly as the protesters, estimated to number between 30 and 40, prayed. All the protesters were to be arrested following the conclusion of the prayer session.

National Union lawmaker Aryeh Eldad, Yesha Council official Pinchas Wallerstein and Rabbi Lior Dov were among those on the barbed wire-adorned roof of the building.

"The last picture from Sa-Nur will be that of a Torah scroll inside a cage. With that picture, we will overthrow Sharon," Eldad said from the rooftop after the police raid, making reference to the lowering of protesters and Torah scrolls from the roof in shipping containers.

Security forces expected the evacuation of Sa-Nur, seen as a bastion of hard-line pullout opponents, to be particularly difficult. The Tuesday evacuation was carried out, however, with almost no violence.

On Tuesday morning, security forces had stormed two synagogues and the ground floor of the Sa-Nur citadel as part of the operation to clear the last two enclaves slated for evacuation under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.

Soldiers, carrying shields and wearing helmets, had earlier used circular saws to cut open the iron door of the ground floor of the fort, where the fiercest opposition had been expected, and began removing the protesters inside.

One boy, aged about 10 years, kicked and shouted as he was carried off by four policemen.

Most of the families who lived in the settlement had departed earlier.

"There were 60 families in Sa-Nur but [few] are left now. What we're dealing with here is a huge number of infiltrators who make this much more a fight over ideology," an IDF spokesman, Jonathan Schroeder, said.

At the Chabad synagogue, troops from the Home Front Command and Border Police gathered at the door, which protesters had welded shut from inside. After a brief exchange, the troops moved to slice open the doors.

Inside the synagogue, around 20 ultra-Orthodox young men were sitting on the floor, while one man walked around, hugging a Torah scroll. A police commander was surrounded by weeping and chanting worshippers as he made one last appeal that they leave voluntarily.

The protesters were eventually taken out of the synagogue, some being forcibly removed by troops.

Police also moved into a larger house of worship, clearing out the dozens barricaded inside. The windows of the synagogue had been blocked by coils of barbed wire.

The evacuation operation began early Tuesday morning, when thousands of troops removed the gates of Sa-Nur and poured into the settlement and neighboring Homesh.

Within hours of entering the settlement, troops had cleared away the tents that had housed protesters from outside Sa-Nur, and the first families had been bused out.

Some settlers harangued soldiers. One confronted a woman officer, held up a portrait and said: "Here's my son, who was murdered by Palestinians, and now you want to expel his father."

The residents of one barricaded house were forcibly evacuated after troops removed the windows.

Electricity to the settlement was cut off Tuesday morning, due to fears that a blaze from burning tires in Sa-Nur would reach the power lines overhead.

Lines of police and soldiers, some in anti-riot gear, advanced through Sa-Nur.

Approaching troops were greeted by young women and girls praying in the streets wearing orange or yellow stars, invoking the treatment of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

By Tuesday morning, the settlement was home only to a few remaining residents, along with a crowd of "reinforcements," including many activists from the extreme-right Kach movement and members of the "hilltop youth" - known for their extremism and rejection of the government's authority.

Before dawn Tuesday, security forces arrested Rabbi Shlomo Eliyahu of Safed and one of his students, who intended to enter Sa-Nur, Israel Radio reported.

The two claimed to have permits to enter the settlement, but the troops refused to let them through. Rabbi Eliyahu has made several extreme comments in the past, including calling on soldiers and police to refuse orders related to the disengagement plan.

Senior officers had initially expected opposition to be much fiercer than the scenes at Kfar Darom last week.

"Our problem is with these 'reinforcements,' two or three of whom arrived Monday night, who will not listen to the rabbis' instructions," GOC Central Command Major General Yair Naveh said Tuesday.

"It may well be that here we will find our next 'lone terrorist.' This is what is worrying us, and, unfortunately, it is out of our control. We are dealing with youths who, as they see it, just want to protect the Holy Land. Sometimes, they cross the lines of what is legitimate."

Sa-Nur secretary Yossi Dagan said reports about the protesters' plans to use violence could be chalked up to attempts by security forces to manipulate the public, and said the right-wing activists would resist the evacuation in a reasonable manner.

Five youths, as well as a couple and their ten children, left Sa-Nur voluntarily Monday. They asked to leave the settlement before the outbreak of possible violent resistance during the evacuation of the settlement, and police escorted them to a bus that transported them out.

The residents of Ganim and Kadim, the two other settlements in the northern West Bank to be evacuated, have already left voluntarily. Demolition of houses in Ganim began Tuesday morning.