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Monday, 21 October, 2002, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Jewish settlers defy outpost clearance
Israeli troops remove settlers
Troops met heavy resistance on Sunday
A group of Jewish settlers has defied the Israeli authorities and re-occupied an illegal outpost in the West Bank.

They started repairing makeshift buildings that had been demolished by the Israeli army.

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
Ben-Eliezer warned of civil strife if the settlers' revolt continued
About 50 people were hurt in clashes at the weekend as Israeli soldiers tried to clear the site, called Havat Gilad or Gilad Farms, near Nablus.

Israel radio says the chief-of-staff of the Israeli armed forces has set up an inquiry into the use of troops on Saturday - the Jewish Sabbath.

On Sunday, Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said he was considering stepping down after he was criticised for ordering the army to remove the settlers.

The attacks on me by government ministers and the lack of backing in the enforcement of law and order are of utmost gravity

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
Cabinet members representing religious parties said his decision to deploy soldiers to the area desecrated the Sabbath.

The BBC's Simon Wilson in Jerusalem says the confrontation is causing rifts in the governing coalition.

And in a separate development, Israeli military sources said two Palestinians were killed in a battle with troops near the Kfar Darom settlement in the Gaza Strip.

However, Palestinian security and hospital sources said no bodies had been found in the area.

Death threats

Mr Ben-Eliezer said the criticism and lack of support from colleagues had led him to reconsider his position.

We have a defence minister who is a very worrying combination of liar and coward

Effie Eitam
Infrastructure minister
He also said that he had received death threats following Sunday's cabinet meeting and compared the situation to tension which preceded the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.

The Jerusalem Post quoted Mr Ben-Eliezer as saying that his Labour Party would leave the coalition altogether unless Infrastructure Minister Effie Eitam, who led the criticism, was sacked from the government.

Mr Eitam, who described Mr Ben-Eliezer as a "liar and a coward", later apologised for his comments.

Troops clashed with demonstrators on Saturday and again on Sunday as people from neighbouring settlements joined in. Army bulldozers destroyed several makeshift buildings.

However, on Monday, about 200 people started rebuilding structures partially destroyed by the army, including a synagogue. Meanwhile troops set up checkpoints near Nablus to prevent more settlers arriving.

'Trust undermined'

Our correspondent says that although there have been clashes between settlers and security forces in the past, there has been nothing on this scale since the current Palestinian intifada began more than two years ago.

Israeli anti-settler demonstration
Many Israelis support Ben-Eliezer's tough line on settlements
Mr Eitam, who leads the National Religious Party, told Israeli radio on Sunday: "We have a defence minister who is a very worrying combination of liar and coward, who, perhaps worst of all, rode roughshod yesterday over the trust between soldiers and their commanders."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, usually a champion of settlement building, on Sunday criticised the settlers' action, saying any attack on Israeli security forces should be condemned.

But he later expressed "great sorrow" for the "unnecessary, mass violation of the Sabbath that was imposed on hundreds of soldiers".

Mr Ben-Eliezer said the settlers' revolt was a "life-and-death danger" and warned of civil strife if it continued.

In an interview for the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, he said he would continue "to the end" to dismantle illegal settlements and accused his opponents of cynically using the Sabbath to thwart him.

The BBC's Simon Wilson
"After the violence on the ground, now comes the political storm"

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See also:

20 Oct 02 | Middle East
02 Jul 02 | Middle East
27 Dec 01 | Middle East
27 Dec 01 | Middle East
02 Mar 01 | Middle East
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