IDF Agrees to Hold Hearings for Outpost Residents

The Israel Defense Forces agreed Wednesday afternoon with a High Court of Justice order to hold hearings for residents of the illegal West Bank outposts slated for removal, before deciding whether or not they should be dismantled.

The hearings on the status of the Gilad Farm and Shvei Shomron West outposts will be held before the legal advisor of the commander of IDF troops in the West Bank. The Gilad Farm hearing is scheduled to be held on Friday and the Shvei Shomron West hearing is set for Sunday.

The temporary High Court order forbidden the dismantling of these two outposts is to remain in force until the conclusions of the hearing.

The court's deliberations were delayed Wednesday afternoon to allow the IDF's legal representative, Shay Nitzan from the state prosecutor's office, the opportunity to respond to the justices' proposal on holding a hearing for the settlers in front of the IDF commander in the West Bank, Major General Moshe Kaplinski. The two sets of petitioners agreed to the delay.

The justices, Aharon Barak, Theodor Or and Edmund Levy, explained that they wanted to remove from the table a claim by the petitioners that they were not given a hearing ahead of the removal of the outpost, after which it would be possible for the judges to hear the rest of the parts of the petitions.

The court issued an interim order Tuesday night preventing the IDF from evacuating the Gilad Farm outpost until a further hearing could be held on the petition.

The army on Tuesday held off dismantling five inhabited outposts, after Yesha Council members initiated legal action to prevent the army operation. The outposts slated to be evacuated were: Gilad Farm, Nofei Nehemia, Sh'vei Shomron West, Mitzpe Yitzhar and Beit El East.

The petitions heard Wednesday were against the removal of the Gilad Farm, Sh'vei Shomron West and Mitzpe Yitzhar.

Gilad Farm has been evacuated four times in the past, most recently in October 2002, when it was the site of violent clashes between settlers and evacuating forces.

The petition presented to the court, in a bid to prevent destruction of the outpost, includes documents attempting to prove that members of the Zar family, who live at the site, legally own the land and live there under official authorization.

In response, the state claimed that Moshe Zar does not own the land on which the outpost was built. The state prosecutor wrote that the orders for evacuating the farm were issued four months ago. It was also stated that after the authorities destroyed the buildings at Gilad Farm, settlers illegally rebuilt the buildings.

Settlers rebuilt the illegal outpost of Amona North on Tuesday morning, after it was dismantled Monday, and vowed to rebuild other outposts evacuated by the army overnight Monday.

A total of 10 outposts were removed overnight. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told settler leaders Monday that 15 would be dismantled.

Hundreds of settlers blocked the army's path Tuesday morning to the flashpoint Gilad Farm, one of four populated outposts that had been slated for removal Tuesday along with one unpopulated site.

Hundreds of rightists, many of them yeshiva students from Jerusalem, converged on Beit El East on Tuesday morning in an effort to prevent soldiers from evacuating the site.

Some 150 settlers also arrived at the Yitzhar outpost, south of the mother settlement, and set up roadblocks early Tuesday afternoon on the path leading to the outpost. They said they planned to use non-violent means to oppose the evacuation of the outpost.

The 10 outposts levelled on Monday night and Tuesday were all unpopulated.

The IDF evacuation effort, dubbed Operation Naked Hilltop, could last for several days.

On Monday and overnight, evacuations had proceeded without any major incidents, but hundreds of settlers - including many children - came to the West Bank outpost of Amona, northeast of Ramallah, and attempted to prevent the movement of military forces and formed a human blockade to prevent IDF trucks from moving.

Settler leaders have expressed severe opposition to the evacuation, and the National Religious Party and National Union have called an additional massive evacuation of inhabited outposts a "red line" that would compel them to leave the government.

The Yesha Council, which represents settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said Monday night that five outposts will go up for every one removed. The Yesha rabbinical council called on the public to flock to outposts scheduled for evacuation to protest the move, and called on security forces to reconsider the morality of the directives they received. They fell short of telling soldiers to disobey army orders to evacuate outposts.

The West Bank outposts where troops removed several empty trailers and other structures included South Neveh Erez, east of Ramallah; Shaharit, which is located next to the Ariel settlement; and Neve Menachem, next to Karnei Shomron. A guard tower was also removed from North Amona, next to the settlement of Ofra, northeast of Ramallah.

The move was hailed by Washington. But Palestinian officials greeted it with derision. "This is a theatrical and insignificant step," said Nabil Abu Rdainah, a top aide to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert (Likud) told Army Radio on Tuesday that he didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

Those who object to the evacuations "are becoming excessively hysterical," he said. "We're talking about places that are mostly unpopulated, so what's all this drama?"

The army said that many valuable lessons were learned from such evacuation operations in the past, and that this time the IDF is dismantling several outposts simultaneously in different areas, in order to prevent thousands of settlers from gathering at every site to be cleared.