In an attempt to defend the outpost Mitzpeh Yitzhar, about 200 people from nearby Jewish settlements converged on the hilltop Thursday morning. They blocked the road leading to Mitzpeh Yitzhar to prevent the authorities from dismantling the outpost, according to a report from the Associated Press.
Settlers also set fire to underbrush and threw purple paint on armored bulldozers, limiting the visibility of the soldiers trying to make their way to the hilltop, the AP reported.
The hundreds of paratroopers and police who made their way to the hilltop were armed only with the knives they carried to remove the settlers’ tents. Some settlers threw punches as they charged the soldiers and police dismantling the outpost. The fighting left at least some of the settlers bloodied, reported the AP correspondent at the scene.
Mitzpeh Yitzhar is the first inhabited outpost to be dismantled, but 10 uninhabited outposts were removed last week. The year-old outpost consisted mainly of tents and had about 10 inhabitants.
“At the moment, we’re trying to calm people down and make them understand that this is a struggle for the Land of Israel, not, God forbid, a war between brothers. We are all brothers,” settler-rabbi Elyakim Levanon told Reuters at the scene.
Despite his call for calm, the rabbi also said the effort of settlers would continue.
“For every hill removed, two more will sprout in its place,” Levanon continued.
Yosi Peli, a settler from the nearby Yitzhar settlement, told the AP that despite the large contingent of troops, the protesters remained committed to retaining or rebuilding the outpost.
“This is our land, our home,” he said. “Tomorrow we will be here again on this hill or on other hills.”
Settler leaders had planned to make Mitzpe Yitzhar a showcase of their opposition to a troubled U.S.-backed peace “road map” which envisages the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. They were calling on settlers across the West Bank to flock to the site to block the evacuation.
As part of the “road map” peace plan, Israel must take down unauthorized outposts set up by settlers in the West Bank over the last two years. Israel’s Peace Now group, which opposes settlements and monitors their activity on occupied land, estimates that about half of the estimated 60 outposts established without government permission since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took office in March 2001 are inhabited.
Israel’s first move against an inhabited outpost came a day before U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in the country to push for progress on the peace process.
Even as Israeli forces were moving in to Mitzpe Yizhar, a Palestinian suicide bomber set off explosives in a grocery store, killing the store owner in the small farming village Sde Trumot, which is about three miles from the northern edge of the West Bank. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Police investigating Thursday’s suicide bombing said they believe the attacker had planned to target a bus or nearby bus stop, so he entered the store to wait until a more crowded bus came by or more people showed up at the stop.
Police say the store’s owner approached him, and then the attacker detonated the explosives, killing himself and the owner. The attack occurred only hours after Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas again tried to persuade militants to make a truce with Israel.