Middle East

Israel police evict settlers from unauthorised Amona outpost

Media captionSettlers resisted as Israeli police moved to evacuate the Amona outpost

There have been scuffles between Israeli protesters and police seeking to evacuate an unauthorised settlement outpost in the occupied West Bank.

Israel's Supreme Court has ruled that Amona must be demolished because it is built on private Palestinian land.

Hundreds of activists threw stones at police and resisted officers as they moved in to enforce the court order. Injuries were reported on both sides.

The removals started on Wednesday and continued into the night.

Hours earlier, the Israeli government approved plans to build 3,000 new homes at settlements in the West Bank.

It is the third such announcement since the inauguration 12 days ago of US President Donald Trump, who has hinted he will be more sympathetic to settlement construction than his predecessor.

A Palestinian official, Hanan Ashrawi, condemned the latest approval and warned that chances for peace were being destroyed.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

There are also more than 95 outposts - settlements built without official authorisation from the Israeli government - across the West Bank.

Located on a hilltop near the settlement of Ofra, north-east of Ramallah, Amona was built in 1996 on land registered as privately-owned by Palestinians.

In 2006, following a decision by the Israeli Supreme Court, nine permanent structures in the outpost were demolished, sparking violent clashes between settlers and security forces.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Protesters set fire to furniture and building materials as police officers moved in
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Some activists also threw stones, some of which lightly injured the officers

In December 2014, the court ordered the Israeli government to completely remove Amona within two years. But the deadline was recently extended until 8 February.

The BBC's Yolande Knell, who is at the outpost, said many of the 50 or so Israeli families who had been living there remained in the homes as bulldozers approached on Wednesday.

"We won't leave our homes on our own. Pull us out, and we'll go," one settler was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. "It is a black day for Zionism."

The settlers were joined by hundreds of supporters, many of whom confronted the lines of Israeli police acting on the Supreme Court's order.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption There are more than 95 outposts - settlements built without official authorisation
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Amona settlers were called "heroes" by Education Minister Naftali Bennett

"A Jew doesn't evict a Jew!" the protesters chanted as they linked arms.

By the early hours of Thursday nearly all houses had been evacuated, Israeli media reported.

At least seven protesters were arrested. Twenty-four officers and 18 civilians were injured, police added, none seriously.

Our correspondent says the demolition of Amona has proven highly divisive for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition, which includes members who strongly support settlements.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Israel's parliament may soon approve a bill to retroactively legalise other unauthorised outposts

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, called the Amona settlers "heroes" and said a bill currently before the Israeli parliament that seeks to retroactively legalise other unauthorised outposts built on private Palestinian land would soon be passed.

"Thanks to the campaign in Amona, thousands of families will be rescued from being evicted from their homes. I call on the pioneers of our generation, the settlers of Judea and Samaria, to lift up your heads," he said, using the Biblical name for the West Bank.

The bill is expected to be approved by parliament next week, but it is opposed by Israel's attorney-general and legal experts say it is likely be overturned by the Supreme Court.