IDF Troops Remove Caravans From Two Illegal Outposts

Nagav Shragai, Ha' Ha'aretz Service, agencies
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Nagav Shragai, Ha' Ha'aretz Service, agencies

IDF troops removed caravans Wednesday evening from two illegal outposts in the West Bank, Havat Gilad and Nofei Nehamia. The removals came after a day of protests over the planned evacuation of the Havat Gilad outpost.

Three caravans housing three families were removed from Nofei Nehamia, with IDF troops ready to take positions there later in the evening.

The move to dismantle Havat Gilad came hours after Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer denied that any agreement had been reached with settler leaders over the evacuation of the outpost.

Ben-Eliezer had ordered the IDF to begin dismantling the Nablus-area outpost on Wednesday morning, but later put the decision on hold while discussing an agreement with Yesha settlement council officials and outpost leader Moshe Zar.

Earlier in the day, some one thousand demonstrators left the outpost, after the settler leaders said they and Ben-Eliezer had agreed on a deal, which they claimed had been made with Zar. According to the settlers, they would leave the site and no longer reside there, but would be able to work the agricultural lands that make up Havat Gilad (Gilad's Farm), and keep most of the farm buildings in place, under an ongoing IDF guard.

According to the defense minister, the IDF reserved the right to decide whether or not to post soldiers at the site. He also denied claims that an agricultural farm would be established there.

The enclave was named for Zar's son Gilad, a West Bank security official who was killed in a Palestinian terrorist ambush in May, 2001.

"We have decisions, and we ask that for the sake of the future and of our achievements, that you leave vountarily," Zar told the protesters.

Immediately after Zar informed the demonstrators of the understandings and asked them to leave of their own accord, hardline veteran settlement leader Danielle Weiss chanted "No agreement, no agreement!" and young demonstrators took up the call, vowing to remain on the premises.

After lengthy discussions, during which Hebron-area settler official Noam Arnon pronounced the deal a victory for the demonstrators, the protesters began filing onto armored buses for their return home.

Earlier, the demonstration threatened to spin out of control, as stone-throwing crowd of militant settlers attacked a Red Cross worker, as well as a film crew from state-owned Israel Channel One television covering the event.

Settlers parked hundreds of cars on the road to the outpost, in an effort to thwart what was to have been the first evacuation of a populated outpost since Ben-Eliezer launched a campaign this month to take down as many as 30 unauthorized enclaves.

Zar had said overnight that "No one will get up and leave on order, they will have to remove the people who will be here,"

"I hope that this brutal, black, cursed day will not come," Zar had added.

The anti-outpost campaign spurred West Bank and Gaza rabbis to issue a controversial declaration this week that "brothers must not evacuate brothers". The message was widely interpreted as a call to IDF soldiers to refuse orders to dismantle outposts, a charge the rabbis have denied.

Before the protests began, settler spokesman Yehoshua Mor-Yossef said the settlement movement would "take great care not to have confrontations with the soldiers, and also make sure that those who come to demonstrate their sympathy with the struggle will act accordingly.

"The intention is not to interfere with the evacuation, rather to protest against it, and to do so in the most respectable manner," Mor-Yossef said.

The move to take down rogue outposts coincides with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to Washington for talks with President George W. Bush, whose administration views dismantling of illegal outposts as a gesture that can contribute to calm in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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