Israeli Police, Settlers Clash in West Bank

Acting on a ruling by Israel's Supreme Court, Israeli troops raid an illegal settlement outpost on a West Bank hilltop. Dozens of people were injured and several more arrested in the ensuing melee.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Today, Israeli troops acting on a ruling by Israel's Supreme Court raided an illegal settlement, an outpost on a West Bank hilltop. Thousands of protestors had barricaded themselves in several houses. In the ensuing melee, dozens of people were injured, several more arrested. It was a scene reminiscent of the forced evacuation of Jewish settlements from the Gaza strip last August.

NPR's Linda Gradstein is at the outpost, and she joins me now.

Linda, thousands of protestors and also thousands of Israeli troops, a recipe for trouble?

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Well, that's exactly what happened. The soldiers and police came in, there were some mounted police as well, at about 9:30 this morning after a last ditch effort by the settlers to the Supreme Court failed. The settlers say that the police came in swinging their clubs and were trying to hurt them. I saw quite a few settlers wounded from clubs. The police say that the settlers threw rocks at them, which I also saw. And there were a lot of clashes.

And then, as they got closer to the houses, hundreds of protestors, most of them religious youths and teenagers from about 13 to 16, 17, had barricaded themselves inside the houses and were throwing rocks at the soldiers from the houses. These are nine houses that have never been lived in. The government says that, after an investigation, that they were built on Palestinian land and that they had to be destroyed. However, what happened today only affects these nine houses. The rest of the outpost of Amona, where I am now, is still standing.

WERTHEIMER: Linda, this is a test, I gather, for the government of interim Israeli Prime Minister Ahud Olmert?

GRADSTEIN: Very much so. In his first major speech last week, Ahud Olmert said he will not allow anybody to flaunt the rule of law, and he really had set this up as a test. And, Israeli officials said to me that they feel like if they cave in on this issue then that was it. There's a total of more than 100 outposts, about two-dozen of which were built after March 2001. And according to the United States-backed Roadmap to Peace, those two dozen are supposed to be dismantled.

This is the first one where there's actually been any dismantling, and based on the violence today, Jewish settlers say that this is just the beginning of their struggle and that they won't go without a fight, and that if there are any more outposts dismantled, the same thing will happen but even more.

WERTHEIMER: And all this comes on the heels of a Hamas victory last week in the Palestinian parliamentary elections?

GRADSTEIN: That's right, which has sort of thrown everything into turmoil. Hamas is still holding consultations about forming a government. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is in Egypt and is meeting with Arab leaders to try to decide what to do. It's really thrown a shock, I think, to a lot of Palestinians and to a lot of Israelis about what will happen, what kind of a government will Hamas form?

Hamas wants a coalition with Fatah, with Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah, so far Fatah officials say they're not interested. The international community says they will cut off aid to a Hamas government. So a lot of things right now are up in the air about what kind of government there will be following the Palestinian parliamentary elections a week ago, and how that government will be able to function.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Linda Gradstein reporting from the illegal Jewish settlement of Amona on the West Bank. Linda, thanks.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you.

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