Middle East

Amona: Israel police clear last protesters from settler outpost

Israeli police clear the synagogue at the unauthorised settlement outpost of Amona, in the occupied West Bank, on 2 February 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Israeli police remove the last protesters from a synagogue in Amona

Israeli police are reported to have removed the last protesters from an unauthorised settlement outpost being dismantled in the occupied West Bank.

All 42 families living at Amona complied with a court order to leave after officers moved in on Wednesday.

But dozens of supporters barricaded themselves inside the local synagogue.

Meanwhile, Israel's prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.

A statement from Benjamin Netanyahu's office said he had set up a committee that would "begin work immediately to locate a spot and to establish the settlement" for those evicted from Amona.

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 December 2014, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the government to completely remove the outpost within two years. But the deadline was recently extended until 8 February.

On Wednesday morning, police officers arrived to begin the evacuation.

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Media captionAmona settlers dragged from homes by Israeli police

Although they clashed with hundreds of pro-settlement activists gathered at the outpost, who threw stones and caustic liquid at officers and staged sit-ins, only one house and the local synagogue were still occupied on Thursday morning.

After clearing the house, police moved onto the synagogue.

Haaretz newspaper reported that protesters inside the building threw rocks, iron bars and liquid at the officers as they breached the barricades, injuring eight.

It also quoted Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan as saying the protesters were "hooligans" who were showing "contempt to Judaism and have no respect to religion".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Israel's public security minister said the protesters had "no respect to religion"
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Eight police officers were wounded on Thursday; it is not clear how many protesters were hurt

Twenty-four police officers and 18 civilians were injured on Wednesday.

Seven people were also arrested for disturbing public order and preventing police from carrying out their duties. Hundreds of others were removed from the site.

Mr Netanyahu said on Thursday that his government would establish a new settlement on state-owned land to replace Amona "as soon as possible".

His decision comes after the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the government's plan to relocate some of the families from Amona to an adjacent plot, after ruling that some of the land is owned by Palestinians.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The government has reportedly promised to establish a new settlement for the Amona families

On Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu approved plans for 3,000 new homes at existing settlements - the third such announcement since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, who has hinted he will be more sympathetic to settlement construction than his predecessor.

Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi told the BBC that Mr Netanyahu had been "emboldened" by Mr Trump's failure to express any disapproval at what she called the "frenzied escalation of Israel's illegal enterprise".