- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

JERUSALEM Israeli soldiers dismantled three unpopulated settlement outposts in the West Bank yesterday, and the Defense Ministry said more illegal enclaves will be targeted soon.
The campaign to dismantle the outposts is being led by Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, leader of the centrist Labor Party, a junior partner in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's coalition.
Settler leaders on Tuesday accused Mr. Ben-Eliezer of targeting the enclaves for internal political reasons. Mr. Ben-Eliezer faces a tough battle for re-election as party chief in November, and his detractors say he moved against the outposts to win votes from the dovish wing of the party.
Dozens of outposts have been established by settlers on isolated West Bank hilltops since 1998, in hopes of thwarting the transfer of land to the Palestinians in a future peace deal.
The enclaves are typically a few miles away from established settlements and consist of shipping containers, mobile homes, a generator and a water tank. Soldiers have been deployed to guard the populated enclaves.
The authorities made several halfhearted attempts to dismantle the outpost in the past, with limited success.
Israel Army Radio said yesterday that Mr. Sharon had no immediate plan to interfere with the dismantling of the outposts, but also quoted Sharon associates as saying the prime minister would not allow the larger and more established enclaves to be evacuated.
As foreign minister in 1998, at a time when his government was engaged in land-for-peace talks with the Palestinians, Mr. Sharon encouraged settlers to grab more hilltops.
The three outposts dismantled yesterday were located in the central West Bank.
Deputy Defense Minister Weizman Shiri, a Labor member, said more outposts, including populated ones, would be dismantled soon. "The state of Israel has to decide if [settlers] are above the law," Mr. Shiri said.
The Settlers' Council said in a statement that the dismantling of the outposts was a "reward for terror," many being set up at the scene of Palestinian attacks on Jewish settlers.
"We will of course oppose in every legal way possible in order to cancel this decision," said Benzi Lieberman, a settler leader.
The army has given settler leaders a list of dozens of settlement outposts that the Defense Ministry has ordered dismantled. The Defense Ministry dismantled 11 outposts on June 30.
In the continuing violence, two Palestinians were killed and 17 wounded by Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip yesterday, doctors said. Palestinian witnesses said troops fired from tank-mounted machine guns at stone throwers in the Rafah refugee camp near the border with Egypt. The military said soldiers patrolling the border area fired after being attacked by gunmen.
Also yesterday, the military demolished two homes of suspected Palestinian militants in a village near the West Bank city of Nablus. Maher Bisher and Bilal Abbas, both members of the Islamic militant group Hamas, are in Israeli custody in connection with a shooting attack in August, which killed an Israeli couple and wounded two of their children.

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