- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

TEL AVIV — Masked settlers clashed with Israeli soldiers in the northern West Bank yesterday, raising fears that resistance to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal plan could be fiercer there than in the Gaza Strip.

Troops faced little violence as they completed the evacuation of all but one Jewish settlement in Gaza yesterday and began bulldozing houses before the communities are turned over to the Palestinians.

Resistance is expected to be minimal when the residents of Netzarim, the last and most-isolated settlement in Gaza, are evicted today.

But it was a different story yesterday in the northern West Bank community of Sanur, where several hundred young men raced out of the settlement to block bulldozers from building a camp for soldiers nearby.

The youths pulled bandanas over their faces and used spikes to puncture the tires of half a dozen jeeps and Humvees, Reuters news agency reported.

Hard-line activists who filtered into Sanur and the neighboring settlement of Homesh in recent months are expected to pose a determined challenge to Israeli security forces when they move to clear out the dying communities later this week.

“The power balance between the evicters and the resistance gives an initial advantage to the soldiers and police — even more so than in Gaza — but the problem isn’t numerical,” the Ha’aretz newspaper wrote in an editorial.

“Zealots have gathered in Homesh and Sanur who are not local residents. They aren’t fighting for their houses or for compensation, but rather to derail lawful policy and to take the air out of the wheels of the withdrawal before it reaches their own regions.”

The pullback in the West Bank is much more limited in scope than in Gaza, where the emptying of 21 settlements with 8,500 residents has gone far more quickly than anticipated.

But the West Bank withdrawal is seen as a signal from Israel that the process will continue into lands captured from Jordan in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war — the heart of the biblical Land of Israel that settlers are determined to defend.

Of the four settlements in the West Bank slated for evacuation, only Homesh and Sanur still are inhabited; the mainly secular residents of the two other communities left voluntarily.

A spokesman for the Sanur settlement declined to return phone calls, but some newcomers to the community said they expect clashes with the Israeli army.

“When you uproot a living thing from its place, there will be negative expressions,” said Amnon Frenkel, who has been living in a tent for three months at Sanur.

“We need to do our part. Will that do anything to delay it? I don’t know. At least I want to be able to tell my grandkids that I did my part.”

It has been easier for ideologically driven settlers from other communities to move into Sanur and Homesh than to the Gaza communities because the West Bank is not sealed off like the Gaza Strip.

There is also fear that the resistance could spill over into surrounding Palestinian villages. A West Bank settler last week killed four Palestinians in an apparent effort to derail the Gaza evacuation.

Finance Minister Ehud Olmert was reasonably optimistic about the West Bank withdrawal during an interview yesterday with CNN.

The pullout “will start Tuesday and, I believe, it will end up within a couple of days, perhaps three or four days,” he told the American network.

The ease with which Israel carries out the evacuation in the West Bank will set a base line of expectations for when the government begins mulling an evacuation of other settlements — something that is not expected until after national elections scheduled for next year.

The pace of future withdrawals also depends on whether the Palestinian uprising escalates again. Still, some observers think evacuating at least some of the settlements in the West Bank is unavoidable.

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