Israeli Army troops forcibly evicted militant Jewish settlers from three agricultural settlements in the northern Sinai Peninsula today and swiftly moved reinforcements into Yamit for a showdown with more than 2,000 opponents of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty less than a week before the scheduled Sinai withdrawal deadline.
The evacuations were accomplished without violent confrontation or bloodshed, Army officials said, but they were conducted out of sight of journalists, who were sharply restricted in their movements.
Security forces continued to pour into the Sinai by the hundreds from staging areas along the border as an almost unbroken stream of flatbed trucks hauling prefabricated houses and bomb shelters flowed northward in a frenetic race against time before next Monday's turnover. Several thousand troops are believed to be involved in the operation.
As the round-the-clock evacuation and dismantling process progressed, Prime Minister Menachem Begin met with senior Egyptian officials in an effort to resolve outstanding disputes in the peace treaty, including demarcation line disagreements and conflicting views on Egyptian-Israeli relations after the Sinai pullback. But both sides sought to minimize the tensions that have created anatmosphere of crisis between the two countries in the past two weeks.
As he finished an evening meeting with Begin and prepared to return to Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali told reporters that "new ideas emerged to bridge the gap," but that no conclusive agreement was reached.
"The next few days will witness, we hope, the happy ending to these contacts," Ali said. He said he was "fully confident" that Israel will complete its Sinai withdrawal on time.
It was unclear when the Army would begin removing members of the "Stop the Sinai Withdrawal" movement from the Mediterranean coastal town of Yamit, but military sources said the operation would probably begin late Tuesday or Wednesday because of the Holocaust memorial holiday and take two or three days to complete. Apart from Yamit, most of the settlers and squatters who took over abandoned houses to protest the withdrawal had been removed from the northern Sinai by late last night.
Soldiers moved into the Talmei Yosef settlement northeast of Yamit early this morning and removed 22 families, most of whom offered only passive resistance when taken to waiting buses for transport north to Israel, Army sources said. The troops left behind only one man, who had said he would commit suicide if attempts are made to remove him forcibly.
About 10 women who retreated to a rooftop to dramatize their protest were removed when soldiers put them, one by one, into a rescue cage hoisted to the rooftop by a crane and lowered them to the ground, members of the militant settlers' group said.
Talmei Yosef, like the other settlements evacuated today, was sealed off by security forces, and reporters were turned away at roadblocks on the approaches to the agriculture cooperative.
At the sprawling Sadot settlement nearby, where hundreds of acres of crops already have been bulldozed under the sand dunes and prefabricated houses dismantled, one couple, Vito and Ella Weizman, was given permission to remain until Wednesday. But they remained in a virtual ghost town. The only family left at the nearby Ovda settlement was evacuated, but most of the 100 settlers at Atzmona continued to negotiate against withdrawal.
At some of the settlement sites, Bedouin families were seen erecting tents on bulldozed cropland even as workmen hauled away salvageable structures and removed utilities.
Dozens of West Bank settlers, frustrated in their attempt to infiltrate into Yamit, gathered at the border crossings here and at the Kerem Shalom border kibbutz and solemnly watched convoys of Army troop transport trucks head for the besieged development town.
One of them, Jonah Hoffman, sat in a pickup truck and relayed to settlements in the West Bank conversations he monitored on a two-way radio giving progress reports from a base station inside Yamit.
"The people want to know what is happening," Hoffman said. "The withdrawal from this place is not easy, not only for the people leaving but others who are worried the same thing may happen to them."
Under military order, Yamit remained officially closed to journalists, and those reporters who were inside found telephone lines cut and virtually no way to get dispatches outside short of leaving, in which case they were not allowed to reenter.
However, one reporter who left said there was little evidence of panic over the imminent eviction by the Army and that children continued to attend makeshift schools.
The Foreign Press Association of Israel, representing 100 news organizations around the world, asked Israel's Supreme Court to issue a restraining order against the Defense Ministry restrictions on news coverage of Yamit. A three-justice panel will hear the case Tuesday.
Israeli military officials say news coverage of the evacuation would be inflammatory and exacerbate tensions.
Israeli authorities sought to hook up a telephone "hot line" into an underground bomb shelter where about 20 extremist members of the Jewish Defense League have vowed to commit suicide if the Army attempts to remove them. U.S.-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, head of the JDL, was reported attempting to come here from the United States to talk to the bomb-shelter holdouts, most of whom are teen-aged Americans recently arrived in Yamit. Palestinian University28.870 PTS LEFT Reopens on West Bank24.190 PTS LEFT Reuter
JERUSALEM, April 19--The Palestinian university of Bir Zeit on the occupied West Bank reopened today after being closed for two months because of anti-Israeli riots.
It was the second time this year that the authorities shut Bir Zeit, a center of Palestinian nationalism. The Israeli military governor had charged university officials and students with violating an agreement to refrain from political activities and violent demonstrations.
The move set off a wave of disturbances on the West Bank.
A ban, imposed in November on the seven members of the university's student council from leaving their home towns has not been lifted, military sources said.
Meanwhile, stone-throwing attacks against Israeli vehicles continued in Jenin and Nablus.
The military imposed a curfew on a road in Tulkarem after a homemade bomb was hurled at a military jeep. There were no casualties.