Settlers Begin Rebuilding Havat Gilad Outpost After IDF Leaves

Sharon slams settlers' violence, says any attack on security forces is an attack on the rule of law.

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A few hundred settlers, mostly youths, returned Sunday evening to an illegal settlement near Nablus, previously dismantled by IDF troops, and began rebuilding one of the structures.

Earlier in the day, IDF troops and police left the Havat Gilad outpost in the West Bank after completing the demolition of the remaining structures.

At least eight policemen were injured Sunday and nine settler demonstrators were arrested as rightist protesters clashed with security forces trying to dislodge them from the enclave near Nablus.

Demonstrators set fire to a weed field near the outpost, burned tires, and attacked and put out of commission a crane which was to be used to dismantle the outpost.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday strongly condemned the demonstrators' resort to violence against security forces. "Any attack against the IDF, the security forces or the police, is an attack on the rule of law," Sharon said in remarks broadcast on Israel Radio. "This must be condemned in the strongest terms, and must not be allowed to take place."

Sharon, who as defense minister in 1982 presided over Israel's only mass evacuation of settlements, the dismantling of northern Sinai enclaves under the terms of a peace treaty with Egypt, added that "Protest, no matter how justified, must be within the framework of the law."

"I want to express great sorrow in my name and the entire cabinet for the unnecessary, mass violation of the sabbath that was imposed on hundreds of soldiers when they evacuated Havat Gilad," Sharon told his cabinet.

Turning aside right-wing calls for his resignation after IDF troops were sent on Shabbat to evacuate the outpost, in an operation that also resulted in violent clashes between the sides, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Sunday that settlers were conducting an insurrection in resisting the army, and vowed to continue taking down illegal outposts "until the end."

Ben-Eliezer warned of civil strife if settler leaders didn't rein in their constituents.

Some 30 policemen and settlers were wounded Saturday night in clashes that erupted when security forces began the evacuation of the illegal Havat Gilad outpost near the West Bank city of Nablus.

"The revolt of the settlers against the government is a life-and-death danger. If they were not rebelling, we wouldn't need to waste time on this," Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio. "There are two or three outposts left in this series of evacuations. I intend to carry this out to the end."

On Saturday, 18 policemen injured in the clashes were hurt by stones and objects thrown at them, and ten settlers were injured during the forced evacuation.

The clashes sparked an exchange of verbal venom extraordinary even for the acrid discourse of left-right public debate. Infrastructure Minister Effie Eitam, chairman of the settler-dominated National Religious Party, accused Ben-Eliezer of deceit, stupidity and cowardice for having allowed troops to be transported on the Sabbath in order to evacuate the outpost.

"There has been cabinet decision on this, and there is no [cabinet] backing for evacuating the outposts. It is a case of Fuad bringing the Labor Party primaries into the camps of the army, into the government, to the soldiers," Eitam said, adding that the defense minister had with "unbearable cynicism" turned his intra-party rivals into a means of legitimizing a "security operation" on the Sabbath.

For his part, the prime minister voiced "deep sorrow, in my name and on behalf of the entire cabinet, for the mass, superfluous violation of the Sabbath that was forced upon hundreds of soldiers for the sake of the evacuation of Havat Gilad. This should not have happened, there was no reason for it to have happened, and it should be strongly denounced."

Settlers vowed to establish a settlement at the site, saying that Ben-Eliezer had broken his promise to allow them to leave on their own.

"From now on, we intend not to leave this place at all. Fuad [Ben-Eliezer] simply steamrollered, in an ugly and unprecendented fashion, explicit understandings according to which the agricultural structure and activities at the site would stay," said Havat Gilad settler Oren Zar.

"We now intend to go up on this hilltop and stay there, as long as necessary, as many times as necessary, to establish a settlement here with all of our strength, without doubts, without compromises, without agreements, without being 'thieves in the night.'"

Ben-Eliezer denied that he had ordered the troops to travel on the Sabbath. Jewish law requires that Jews refrain from all Sabbath travel unless obligated by pikuah nefesh, the commandment to save human life, even if the act involves religious transgressions.

"I have asked the Chief of Staff to investigate this [Sabbath travel] matter, to see how this happened," Ben-Eliezer said. "But, as citizens, we must not forget for a second that the settlers are located in areas of pikuah nefesh, which takes precedence over [the laws of] the Shabbat - and that the soldiers spend their own holidays and Shabatot" in defending them.

Eitam charged that in ordering the removal by force, Ben-Eliezer had broken an agreement with the protesters occupying the site, under which they would leave voluntarily. "This morning I heard him saying 'I didn't give the order.' Is he that stupid, as well, not to have understood that an operation beginning on Saturday night and requiring masses of soldiers, will not cause a mass violation of the Sabbath?

"This is a form of cowardice diluted with lying. A figure like this, who is prompted by political panic to make decisions like this, cannot be defense minister in Israel."

Before the end of Sabbath on Saturday, five buses containing police officers and IDF soldiers, accompanied by a bulldozer, arrived at Havat Gilad (Gilad's Farm) to remove settlers and structures from the illegal outpost.

Some 1,000 settlers protesting the removal of the outpost were waiting at the site.

Three of the officers were wounded by blows to the head from stones thrown by settlers. The officers received medical treatment at the scene and returned to efforts to clear the enclave. A spokesman for the Judea and Samaria police department described the settlers' resistance as "fierce and violent."

Referring to the core of militant young settler demonstrators, Ben-Eliezer said, "We are speaking of a group that are wild 'Youth of the Hilltops,' that even the rabbis cannot control, some of whom are quite problematic, violent types, who go clash head-on with IDF soldiers.

"I won't lend a hand to this, and will oppose this all the way."

Responding to Eitam's scathing criticism of Ben-Eliezer, Labor MK Haim Ramon, one of the defense minister's main rivals for the party chairmanship, urged that Eitam himself be sacked:

"The defense minister should demand that the prime minister get rid of Effie Eitam, the defender of lawbreakers, who is himself an integral part of them, a group of semi-criminal elements which is trying to force its political doctrine onto an democratically elected government."

The Havat Gilad enclave had been reclaimed by settlers after troops cleared the site earlier in the week.

Security forces tried several times to calm the situation. The Zar family, for whose son Gilad the outpost was named, arrived in an effort to prevent a confrontation between settlers and troops. Contacts between settler leaders and the Defense Ministry also failed to prevent the violence.

Gilad Zar, a West Bank security officer, was killed in a Palestinian terrorist ambush in May, 2001.

Moshe Zar, the patriarch of the Zar family, was knocked unconscious and taken to hospital for treatment. He later returned to the site.

Members of the National Religious Party called Saturday evening for Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer to be sacked. Former party leader, Tourism Minister Yitzhak Levy, said that at Sunday's cabinet meeting he would bring up the order that allowed soldiers to break the Sabbath in order to travel to the outpost.

Some 300 settlers returned over the weekend to the outpost following rumors that the IDF was planning to remove the last remaining sheds left in the field.

Dozens of settlers remained at the site Saturday after rumors spread that troops were to dismantle the rest of the remaining structures at the site.

On Thursday, soldiers and police demolished the agricultural structures at Havat Gilad, after previously removing the settlers' caravans.

Some 1,000 settlers and demonstrators left the outpost of their own accord at the end of a day of protests over the planned evacuation of the site. But a small group stayed, vowing never to leave the hilltop. They were joined by hundreds more on Friday.

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