W. Bank Sees Two More Cat-and-mouse Evacuations

The game of cat and mouse being played between the Israel Defense Forces and the settlers continued yesterday with the evacuation of two small outposts already evacuated a number of times.

Meanwhile, the IDF removed two roadblocks to ease movement for the Palestinians in the West Bank, and senior officers said that if calm continued in the region, more roadblocks would be removed.

The IDF decided to evacuate Maoz Esther again following reports that settlers were planning to build permanent homes there and had already poured concrete foundations.

After the evacuation of the outposts of Ramat Migron and Maoz Esther north of Jerusalem, the settlers vowed to return. Meanwhile, two new outposts began to go up, one not far from Shiloh and the second near the settlement of Nachliel, in the northern West Bank.

In both evacuated outposts, opposition from the small numbers of setters on the scene to the dozens of riot-control police there was minimal.

Responding to rightist claims that the removal of the outposts and the roadblocks were meant to assist Defense Minister Ehud Barak in his talks in Washington, Barak's bureau said: "The removal of the outposts was done to enforce law and order in the West Bank and the removal of roadblocks is part of a process ongoing for two years to make the lives of the Palestinians easier. In any case, these actions are taken while preserving Israel's security interests."

Settlers yesterday said they were concerned the army was planning on evacuating the outpost of Givat Asaf, near Beit El, a relatively large and veteran outpost, a type that the authorities had not touched during the present round of evacuations.

Settlers at the Havat Gilad outpost and the settlement of Shavei Shomron responded to the evacuations by throwing stones at Palestinian cars and settling fire to their lands and olive orchards.

War of nerves

"This is a war of nerves against the settlers and the Palestinians simultaneously, an IDF officer said. "Each side wants to show it is the injured party and can respond any way it wants."

Itai Zar, an activist from Havat Gilad, warned there would be disturbances as long as the evacuations continued. "There are many young people who are still dragging around the trauma of Gush Katif and will not let it happen again," Zar said.

In a pamphlet distributed in synagogues on Saturday, Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe wrote of the evacuations: "Pharaoh only imposed edicts on the male children, while Bibi [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] is ordering tens of thousands of families not to give birth so as not to have a house or a balcony in Judea and Samaria."

Wolpe is chairman of an organization represented under the umbrella of the National Union Knesset faction's MK Michael Ben Ari.

Sources in the Yesha Council (of Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria) said of Wolpe's remarks that although Wolpe represents practically no one and is considered an extremist, he is expressing the real distress that thousands of couples have to leave the region every year because they have no place to live.

Security officials intend to conduct a dialogue with settler leaders before beginning the evacuation of 26 illegal outposts. Senior IDF officers are opposed to using soldiers in the first circle of the evacuation, preferring the police, although they said they would carry out orders as given.

The IDF said yesterday senior IDF officers had reached an agreement with the commanders of the Palestinian security forces on the removal of the Rimonim roadblock, which cut off Ramallah from the Jordan Valley, and the Bir Zeit roadblock north of Jerusalem. It was also decided to allow 24-hour passage to the village of Asira a-Shamaliya north of Nablus, and to grant more entry permits to Israel for Palestinian businessmen.

Senior IDF officers have said over the past few days they are satisfied with the level of Palestinian security cooperation, as seen in the arrest sweep in Qalqilyah on Sunday during which two senior Hamas men wanted by the IDF were killed.