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Clearing Palestinian protesters from West Bank site, Netanyahu pledges to build settlement

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JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Sunday to follow through with plans for settlement construction in a key West Bank area known as E-1 after police evicted scores of Palestinian protesters who had set up a tent camp there.

“We will complete the planning, and there will be construction,” Netanyahu told Army Radio hours after the eviction, but he cautioned that the planning process for the new development “will take time.”

Netanyahu, who is in the home stretch of an election campaign, moved swiftly against the Palestinian encampment, a new form of grass-roots protest modeled after scores of wildcat outposts set up by Jewish settlers on West Bank hills without government approval.

While many of those outposts remain in place, Netanyahu ordered the evacuation of the Palestinian camp — a cluster of about 20 tents that protesters called the village of “Bab al-Shams,” or Gate of the Sun — a day after it went up Friday.

It was cleared early Sunday after Israel’s Supreme Court overturned an earlier injunction delaying the removal of the protesters, who had argued that they were on private Palestinian land. The court accepted the government’s argument that the continued presence of the protesters could lead to riots and that there was an urgent security need to remove them.

About 500 police officers moved into the area at 2:30 a.m. and evicted about 120 Palestinians, some of whom had to be carried off when they put up passive resistance, said Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman. He said there were no injuries during the hour-long operation.

But Abir Kopty, a spokeswoman for the protesters, said that some were punched in the face as they sat on the ground and resisted removal, and that six required hospital treatment. Pictures of men with facial injuries were later distributed by protest organizers, known as the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee.

Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian legislator and political activist who was at the encampment when it was cleared, accused Israeli authorities of a double standard.

“They are allowing more than 100 outposts to stay, illegal settlements by every standard of international law, while preventing people from being on land privately owned by Palestinians,” he said. “This is a system of two laws for two peoples living in the same area, and that is apartheid.”

Israel’s advancement of plans to build in E-1, announced in November after the Palestinians gained recognition as a non-member observer state at the United Nations, drew international condemnation.

The United States and European nations criticized the planned development as damaging prospects for a geographically contiguous Palestinian state, saying it would drive a wedge between the northern and southern West Bank and create a barrier between the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as their future capital.

Successive Israeli governments have viewed E-1, which lies between Jerusalem and the settlement town of Ma’aleh Adumim, as a reserve for further construction, though plans to build there had been frozen after strong objections from Washington.

Speaking at the weekly meeting of his cabinet after the protest camp was emptied, Netanyahu vowed to prevent further Palestinian attempts to lay claim to the area. “We will not allow anyone to harm the contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim,” he said.

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