The Israeli government has sent eviction notices to settlers in the northern Sinai, telling them to evacuate the area by March 31, nearly a month before Israel is scheduled to return the last third of the occupied Sinai to Egypt.
Settlers in the town of Yamit and surrounding agricultural settlements said they had been warned that if they do not leave voluntarily, they will have to pay for their forcible evacuation and any other damages incurred by the government.
However, aides to Prime Minister Menachem Begin appeared to be intensifying their effort to reach a negotiated settlement with those Sinai residents who have been holding out for more compensation for their property, and a new round of talks between the settlers and a team of government negotiators has been scheduled for Sunday.
An agreement between the Yamit settlers and Deputy Prime Minister Simcha Ehrlich specifies that both sides will attempt to conclude the negotiations quickly, and that each settler seeking additional compensation will submit his demand to Ehrlich for binding arbitration.
The agreement appeared to defuse, for the time being at least, a growing confrontation during which some militant Yamit settlers had used bulldozers to construct slit trenches and other fortifications for what they termed a "final showdown" with any Army unit that attempts to forcibly evacuate them. This week alone, six houses in Yamit, previously vacated by settlers who accepted compensation, were set afire by militant members of the Stop the Sinai Withdrawal movement and by settlers who are still demanding an average of $265,000 each.
When asked whether settlers who have recently moved into vacant houses in the northern Sinai in an attempt to prevent the scheduled April 25 turnover to Egypt would be removed, Ehrlich said in an Israeli television interview that any Israeli has a right to be in the area until the eviction deadline, but that those who break into houses or destroy property will be prosecuted.