Troops Prepare to Evacuate Settlers From Three West Bank Hills
ARTIS HILL, West Bank (AP) _ Israeli troops swarmed up a rocky hillside by the hundreds today to evacuate defiant Jewish settlers, less than 24 hours after the army and police dragged many off another hill.
In a replay of Monday’s confrontation, police and soldiers dragged and carried settlers off Artis Hill, north of Jerusalem, but many returned immediately to the top. By midday, troops had cleared the hill and detained two busloads of settlers.
The settlers say plans to withdraw Israeli troops from West Bank towns and transfer the area to Palestinian control endangers their security and violates their biblical claim to the land.
They vow to continue their protests until negotiations with the PLO are stopped.
``We’ll return _ if not today, then tomorrow,″ said protester Meir Gross. ``This isn’t a land dispute, but a struggle for our roots and our existence as a nation.″
Settlers cheered each time one of their ranks was carried off by police and piled stones, pipes and pieces of plywood in the road in an effort to block the buses carrying the detainees.
Police said they arrested 213 settlers and evacuated more than 600 in Monday’s confrontation on Dagan Hill, 12 miles south of Jerusalem.
But more settlers, protesting the emerging Israel-PLO accord to expand Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank, set up encampments on three new hills late Monday. The largest, as many as 400 settlers, was on Artis Hill near the Beit El settlement.
``If the government thinks that we are going to sit quietly by while they carry out this extremely dangerous process, they are mistaken,″ said settler spokesman Aharon Domb.
Domb said Artis Hill belongs to Beit El. He said the settlers are demanding it be kept for the future growth of the settlement.
An editorial in the Haaretz newspaper today said many people in Israel think the noisy protests are in vain.
``The settlers don’t have the strength to force the government to change its political line, and the placing of a few huts on another hill will not achieve this aim,″ the editorial said.
Turning over control of West Bank towns to the Palestinians is more complex than the initial deal establishing autonomy in the Gaza Strip and Jericho because of the 140,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank. Only 5,000 settlers live in the Gaza Strip.
Police spokesman Boaz Goldberg said troops were massing near Artis Hill, where settlers set up an encampment late Monday after the Dagan evacuation. A police bulldozer had already begun clearing the area for evacuation, Domb said.
On Monday, troops carried protesters off Dagan Hill one by one after they refused to leave. The settlers sat on the hill singing and praying, arms locked together or chained to water tanks.
When troops dropped them at the bottom of the hill, many ran back up. Some 25 settlers and one policeman were slightly injured in six hours of confrontation under a scorching sun.
Finally, in the early evening, police managed to clear Dagan Hill and settlers moved their protests to other locations.