Israeli Police Evict Settlers in Hebron

The Associated Press
Sunday, May 7, 2006; 11:57 PM

HEBRON, West Bank -- Baton-wielding Israeli police cajoled and dragged dozens of Jewish squatters out of a three-story, Palestinian-owned home Sunday, 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 last summer's forced evacuation of all the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

In Gaza early Monday, three Palestinian gunmen were killed in the most serious outbreak of fighting between rival Fatah and Hamas since Hamas took over the Palestinian government in late March.

A Hamas fighter was killed in Bani Suheila in southern Gaza, security officials said, and Hamas responded by firing an anti-tank rocket at Fatah gunmen, killing two.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants to withdraw 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.

In a further sign of his tough approach, Olmert told his Cabinet's first session that he will also crack down on wildcat settler outposts in the West Bank that have drawn international criticism.

Olmert's withdrawal plan has also angered Palestinian leaders because Olmert says he will proceed even without a peace deal, pursuing a course similar to the unilateral Gaza withdrawal initiated by then 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, too, 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 Jews and Muslims.

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