- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 17, 2002

HAVAT GILAD, West Bank Israeli soldiers and police backed down from a confrontation with Jewish settlers at an illegal West Bank outpost yesterday, permitting them to remain at the disputed hilltop site during daylight hours, the settlers said.
"It's a victory for us," said Rivka Shimon, a relative of the family that lives on the land, maintaining that for the first time, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government had given tacit approval to creation of a new settlement in the West Bank.
About 2,000 settlers and backers, most of them teenagers, had gathered in a show of force to discourage soldiers from tearing down a cluster of three mobile homes, camping tents and a roofless synagogue placed there as the beginning of a new settlement near the Palestinian town of Nablus.
The Defense Ministry, which has ordered two dozen outposts dismantled, agreed with the Settlers' Council to allow the dwellings to remain on this hilltop as long as protesters left the area, Miss Shimon said. The families living here would be allowed to care for small agricultural plots during the day, she said.
The Defense Ministry did not return phone calls seeking comment on the agreement.
The developments came just before Mr. Sharon's meeting with President Bush at the White House. The United States has been critical of settlement building, calling it an obstacle to Middle East peace efforts.
Mr. Sharon has been an avid supporter of settlements but has sought to avoid a clash with Washington, Israel's leading ally.
In the southern Gaza Strip, meanwhile, Palestinian security sources told Agence France-Presse that Israeli machine-gun fire had wounded 16 Palestinians, including nine children.
Two tanks opened fire after rumbling a few yards up Salahedin Street, the main boulevard in the Rafah refugee camp next to the border with Egypt, the sources said.
Six persons were immediately hit, including a 12-year-old boy, Ahmed Abu Shahar, and 53-year-old Ahmed Asfour, who were both struck in the head and seriously wounded, security and medical sources added.
The gunfire hit several houses and a United Nations-administered school for Palestinian refugees. It triggered clashes between soldiers and stone-throwing youths that left another six persons wounded.
The wrangle over the dozens of hilltop outposts is the latest chapter in the history of a movement that has placed more than 200,000 Jews in the West Bank and Gaza since Israel captured the areas in the 1967 Mideast war.
The confrontation could endanger Mr. Sharon's coalition government with the more centrist Labor Party of Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. Labor favors trading much of the West Bank for peace with the Palestinians.
At Havat Gilad, or Gilad's Ranch, settlers prayed in a small synagogue made of corrugated metal walls. Others lay in vans crowded with sleeping bags. A few teens piled rocks to make a 3-foot-high wall on the road, hoping to hamper army jeeps.
"In a few years we will come here and find a lot of houses," Rabbi Elyakim Levanon said through a megaphone as the crowd cheered. "In the meantime we'll have some vegetable fields," he said, as five soldiers climbed the hill.
Settler Moshe Zar set up the outpost after his son, Gilad, was shot dead in May 2001 by Palestinian militants in the area.
Mr. Zar asked the settlers to use nonviolent resistance yesterday. However, settlers threw stones at journalists' cars and flattened tires. Others urged the crowd to stay put as soldiers moved in.

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