AMONA, West Bank - Thousands of club-wielding troops in riot gear and on horseback clashed with stone-throwing Jewish protesters Wednesday as they began dismantling homes in this illegal West Bank settlement, officials said. Dozens of people were wounded.
It was the first forced evacuation of Jewish settlers since last summer's pullout from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank, and was on par with the most violent scenes of the Gaza pullout. Both settlers and policeman were among the wounded, with police saying 31 of their officers had been hurt.
In all, some 5,000 demonstrators, including 1,800 right-wing extremists holed up in the nine homes, were being forcibly removed from the Amona outpost, and police said at least 40 people had been arrested.
The evacuation, which followed a Supreme Court order earlier in the day, was seen as a test for acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who has said he would act against settlers violating the law. If elected prime minister in March elections, Olmert is widely expected to withdraw from more areas of the West Bank and dismantle additional Jewish settlements, either unilaterally or in a deal with the Palestinians.
"This conflict has to end with one bottom line, that we enforce the law against the rioters," Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Army Radio.
West Bank settler Uriel Shub, 18, said tensions during Wednesday's evacuation were "much worse" than last summer's Gaza pullout but said settlers have no choice but to take a tough stand. "If there is no resistance, the withdrawals will continue," said Shub, who was injured in the elbow.
About an hour into the operation at Amona, troops had reached the first home and began tearing down window shutters with crowbars. They dragged out protesters through the windows, as settlers dropped paint-filled balloons and stones on them from above.
Troops then climbed a ladder to reach rioters barricaded on a rooftop, with settlers pushing them back with sticks and hurling eggs and sand at them. Other troops rode the shovel of a bulldozer to the roof and began forcing settlers into the shovel to bring them down.
Across the outpost, settlers pelted troops with stones as soldiers tried to hold the crowds back with clubs and water cannons. Thick, black smoke from burning tires filled the air.
A field clinic was set up to treat the wounded, and people milled about with their heads wrapped in bandages and wearing T-shirts splattered with blood.
Two right-wing Jewish members of parliament were among those wounded in the clashes. Effie Eitam, a legislator from the National Union Party, stood among the protesters with blood streaming from his forehead.
"They are treating people here like Arabs," said legislator Arieh Eldad in a telephone interview from the scene with Israel Radio. Eldad said he suffered a broken arm.
About 6,000 Israeli security forces moved into the outpost after Israel's Supreme Court cleared the last hurdle to the evacuation Wednesday morning. Under the court order, nine homes built illegally on private Palestinian land were to be demolished.
Earlier in the day, a Supreme Court judge had delayed the evacuation to discuss the matter further after the settlers agreed to a compromise, but that was overruled by a larger panel on the court.
Since the mid-1990s, right-wing Jewish settlers have established dozens of unauthorized outposts to prevent the transfer of disputed land to the Palestinians. The Palestinians hope to set up a state in areas Israel captured in 1967, which include the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Under the internationally backed "road map" peace plan, Israel has committed to dismantle about two dozen outposts but so far has taken little action. Amona is north of Jerusalem, near the Palestinian town of Ramallah.
The army had set up roadblocks Monday to prevent large-scale infiltrations into Amona. By Tuesday morning hundreds of opponents of the evacuation - most of them teenagers - had flooded into the hilltop community and into Ofra.
[b]Here is the original version before the removed the comment about "treating us like Arabs"[/b]
Israeli troops, Jewish settlers clash
AMONA, West Bank - Thousands of club-wielding riot police began evacuating this illegal Israeli outpost Wednesday, pulling stone-throwing settlers from rooftops in the fiercest confrontation over settlements since Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip last summer.
The battle over Amona, an Israeli hilltop enclave in the heart of the West Bank, was seen as a test for acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who has said he would act with determination against settlers violating the law.
Olmert is widely expected to withdraw from more areas of the West Bank and dismantle additional Jewish settlements, whether unilaterally or in a deal with the Palestinians, if elected prime minister in March elections.
More than 50 police officers were among the dozens injured in the clashes in Amona.
The Islamic militant Hamas, meanwhile, faced its first major challenge since winning last week's Palestinian parliament election after Israel said it was suspending the monthly transfer of millions of dollars of tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority pending a review.
Palestinian officials warned that without the money, they won't be able to pay the salaries of 137,000 government employees, a large chunk of the work force. Palestinian Economics Minister Mazen Sinokrot said Israel had "no right" to freeze the tax funds but said negotiations with Israel over the issues were continuing Wednesday.
Also Wednesday, Egyptian officials said their country would send a strong message to Hamas to recognize Israel, disarm and honor past peace deals - the latest sign of Arab governments pushing the militant group to moderate its stance after its surprise election victory.
"Nobody will talk to them before they stop violence, recognize Israel and accept (peace) agreements, including the road map," the chief of Egypt's intelligence, Omar Suleiman, told journalists in Cairo. The U.S.-backed road map outlines a series of steps to be taken by Israelis and Palestinians in preparation for the creation of a Palestinian state.
In the Gaza Strip, an explosion blew out the walls in the home of Suleiman Abu Mutlak, a former Palestinian security official, but caused no injuries. Abu Mutlak blamed Hamas for the blast, the first attack on a leading figure in the defeated Fatah Party since Hamas' victory. Hamas denied involvement.
The clashes at the Amona settlement outpost were on par with the most violent scenes during last summer's pullout from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, in which 25 settlements were dismantled.
Settlers threw rocks, eggs and paint-filled balloons at helmeted riot police, who approached barricaded rooftops in the shovels of bulldozers. From behind barbed wire ringing the roofs, protesters also used sticks to beat back troops climbing up ladders.
Eventually, the helmeted officers got up on the roofs, wrestled with demonstrators and took them down in the same bulldozer shovels. By noon, the first of nine homes in Amona were being demolished by bulldozers.
Dozens of people were injured, and more than 40 rioters were arrested. Israeli media said more than 50 police officers were among the injured, including one who was in serious condition. Two right-wing legislators were hurt on the side of the protesters.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said troops were determined to clear out the settlers. "This conflict has to end with one bottom line, that we enforce law and order against the rioters," Mofaz told Israel Army Radio.
Amona is one of dozens of outposts set up by settlers in the past decade to prevent the creation of a future Palestinian state. Israel has promised to dismantle two dozen outposts as part of its road map obligations.
However, since the launch of the road map in 2003, the evacuation of outposts has been bogged down in legal maneuvering, and a government report said Israel was not doing enough to meet its commitments. Some government ministries were even funneling state funds to the outposts.
The Palestinians hope to set up a state in areas Israel captured in 1967, which include the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
In all, some 5,000 demonstrators, including 1,800 extremists holed up in the nine buildings, were being forcibly removed.
Thick black smoke from burning tires rose into the air. Club-wielding soldiers on horseback charged into the crowd and water cannons tried to push back protesters. A field clinic was set up to treat the wounded, and people milled about with their heads wrapped in bandages and wearing T-shirts splattered with blood.
Troops began moving into the outpost after Israel's Supreme Court cleared the last hurdle to the evacuation Wednesday morning.
Also Wednesday, Israel said it has frozen this month's transfer of $45 million in taxes and customs payments to the Palestinian Authority while it reviews its options following the Hamas victory.
A failure to pay the January salaries could pose the most difficult test yet for Hamas, which has resisted international demands to recognize Israel, disarm and renounce violence. Many Palestinian families depend on a government salary.
The United States and the European Union also have said millions of dollars in aid could be in jeopardy unless Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist.
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