Thousands of demonstrators took part in a mass march to the evacuated settlement of Homesh in the northern West Bank under the protection of Israeli soldiers on Tuesday, following Defense Minister Benny Gantz's eleventh hour reversal of initial military warnings that soldiers would not protect the marchers.
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 79 Palestinians were wounded by tear gas, rubber bullets and other riot-dispersal measures after clashes broke out with military forces in the area.
The march was attended by Yamina MK Idit Silman and far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, among others, and began after soldiers blocked pathways from nearby Palestinian villages to the main road.
Gantz walked back on the military's position following negotiations with the organizers of the march, sources say.
The march's organizers shuttled far-right demonstrators to the event which will end at what is now functionally an illegal settler outpost.
The former settlement of Homesh has been the site of a yeshiva ever since it was evacuated as part of Israel's 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip and specific tracts of the West Bank. While the army has prevented settlers from living there, the illegal operation of the yeshiva has turned the site into a de facto outpost.
On Monday, the IDF's Central Command advised against allowing the march in light of several widely-publicized violent confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank in recent days. Officials fear the Passover march – a holiday that sees an uptick in religious Israelis traveling across the West Bank – could ignite further clashes.
- Israeli government says fate of illegal outpost of Homesh in Gantz's hands
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- Eight settlers arrested for attacking soldiers, Palestinians near illegal West Bank outpost
Two weeks ago, the commander of the Samaria Brigade, Roi Zweig, wrote a letter to the yeshiva illegally operating at Homesh, declaring the yeshiva unauthorized and dangerous. Anyone who chose to evade the soldiers on duty in the area and march near Palestinian villages, he warned, was “taking his life into his own hands.”
In December, Israeli settler Yehuda Dimentman was murdered at the entrance to Homesh by a group of Palestinians, intensifying support for the outpost from the wider Israeli settlement movement. Two weeks after his murder, a march was organized in which some 10,000 people participated. The army provided security for the march itself, but the large rally at Homesh towards the end of the march was unauthorized.