- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

HEBRON, West Bank — Baton-wielding Israeli police cajoled and dragged dozens of Jewish squatters out of a three-story, Palestinian-owned home yesterday, demonstrating the new government’s resolve to confront extremist settlers.

Nineteen officers and seven settlers were reported injured during a clash outside as protesters tried to keep police from entering the building in a scene reminiscent of violence during the forced evacuation of all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip in the summer.

In another sign of his tough approach, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his Cabinet’s first session that he will crack down on wildcat settler outposts in the West Bank that have drawn international criticism.

Mr. Olmert wants to pull out from most of the West Bank and draw Israel’s borders by 2010, a program that infuriates settlers, many of whom view the whole territory as a Jewish biblical birthright.

The plan also has angered Palestinian leaders because Mr. Olmert says he will proceed even without a peace deal, pursuing a course similar to the unilateral Gaza withdrawal initiated by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Hours before the Hebron eviction began, police and settlers clashed when officers cleared away a crowd of protesters outside the home. The squatters threw balloons and light bulbs filled with paint from the roof. Police said settlers inside also threw stones, bottles and firebombs.

Officers stormed inside after sawing through a barricaded metal door. Some in the crowd outside tried to force their way in, but officers pulled the struggling protesters away, sometimes slapping them to calm their thrashing.

Police appealed to the squatters — some with toddlers and babies — to leave peacefully, and some agreed. But others had to be hauled out, including one woman whose infant bawled as officers carried them out.

The operation took about two hours, and three families and 27 young sympathizers were removed, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said. He said 17 settlers were arrested.

Discarded water bottles, ice-cream wrappers and half-eaten sandwiches overflowed from cardboard boxes in the damp, stone alley in front of the emptied building, which is not far from the Tomb of the Patriarchs — a shrine holy to both Jews and Muslims.

Authorities said about 700 police, supported by 1,000 soldiers, took part in the operation to enforce a court order that the squatters be removed.

Palestinians who said they own the building went to court seeking the squatters’ eviction. The settlers argued they had bought the home, but Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that key documents were forged and ordered the eviction.

Mr. Olmert waited just minutes after the Hebron operation ended before telling his Cabinet that he also would remove unauthorized West Bank outposts, another flash point between the government and settlers over plans to give up land with large populations of Palestinians.

“In the next few years, we will change Israel’s character to ensure it will be a state with a solid Jewish majority living in defensible borders that can provide security to the residents of Israel,” Mr. Olmert said at a ceremony marking his official entrance into the prime minister’s office.

“In every case where the law is violated, we will respond without compromise, and we won’t reconcile ourselves to illegal facts on the ground,” Mr. Olmert’s office quoted him as saying.

A government-commissioned report last year said settlers have established 105 unauthorized outposts in the past decade.

Settlers say openly that the outposts, sometimes no more than a mobile home and an Israeli flag on a barren hilltop, are designed to break up Palestinian areas and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Israel promised the U.S. government that it would dismantle about two dozen outposts set up since Mr. Sharon was first elected prime minister in March 2001, but little action has been taken.

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