Israeli Protestors, Police Clash at West Bank Settlement

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Violent clashes erupted as thousands of Israeli youth clashed with thousands of security forces attempting to demolish nine empty houses in the West Bank settlement of Amona on Wednesday.

The operation proceeded after Israel's High Court rejected a petition to put the demolitions on hold.

Amona is a 10-year-old community of some 35 families who live in mobile homes on the top of a hill. At issue is the demolition of nine brand new, two-family homes on a ridge beneath the hill, which the government says were "unauthorized."

Israel has pledged to dismantle what it calls "unauthorized outposts" in the West Bank where Palestinians want to establish a future state. Israel says in doing so, it is living up to its obligations under the road map peace plan.

But a settler spokesperson said the issue goes beyond the nine buildings at Amona.

After the eviction of 9,000 Jews from their homes in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank last summer, the settlers want to "make a stand" so the government will "think twice" about destroying additional outposts and settlements.

"They can't keep seeing us as the punching bag," said Ruthi Lieberman.

Last summer's mandatory evacuations included some settlements that dated back 30 years.

On Wednesday, Israeli protestors pelted security forces with rocks thrown from the roofs of the buildings set for demolition. In return, police fired water canons at the protesters.

Mounted police charged a huge crowd of protestors and beat them with sticks. Two Israeli Knesset members were among dozens of protestors and security forces reportedly wounded in the fray.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said it was a "difficult day" for Israel. But the situation demonstrated Israel's commitment to fulfill its road map obligations.

"Israel is a country under the rule of law and no people can consider themselves above the law," said Regev.

It also shows how seriously Israel takes its commitments under the road map, said Regev.

He called it "troubling, saddening, and disturbing" that Hamas, the Palestinians' new ruling party, "doesn't see itself under any obligations at all."

Under the first phase of the road map, the Palestinian Authority committed itself to fight terrorism and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, including collecting weapons from militant groups such as Hamas.

It is not clear yet whether Hamas, which won an overwhelming victory in last week's elections, will honor agreements entered into by the Palestinian Authority. Most observers don't hold out much hope.

So far Hamas has rejected calls to disarm and to back off its demands for the destruction of the Jewish State.

In his State of Union address on Tuesday, President Bush said now that the Palestinian people have voted for a new legislature, "the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace."

The U.S. and Europe have said they will not continue with financially aid to the P.A. if Hamas does not recognize Israel.

See earlier story:
Israeli PM Confronts Settlers in 'Unauthorized Outpost' (31 Jan. 2006)

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