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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Israel to uproot 20 illegal settlements
Binyamin Ben Eliezer
Ben Eliezer has backed settlements in the past
Israel's defence minister has said he wants to uproot 20 illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Binyamin Ben Eliezer has not identified which settlements will be targeted.


I am definitely at a point where I am going to deal with the issue of the illegal outposts

Binyamin Ben Eliezer
About 200 Jewish settlements have been set up with Defence Ministry permission on the West Bank and Gaza Strip since Israel seized the territories in 1967.

But about 60 so-called "rogue" outposts, often just a cluster of caravans, have also appeared in recent years.

All the settlements, which are often occupied by religious nationalists, are a major bone of contention between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

soldier
Dovish Israelis ask whether the settlements are worth defending
Palestinians have targeted settlers and settlements in their 20-month-old uprising, which erupted in September 2000 after peace talks collapsed.

And some Israelis question now whether the enclaves are worth defending. Many view the settlers as an extremist minority.

To many secular, dovish Israelis, settler ideology precludes the possibility of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Settler anger

Mr Ben Eliezer has supported the settlements in the past, but has always said he is ready to make concessions when the time is right.

He told Israeli radio: "I am definitely at a point where I am going to deal with the issue of the illegal outposts.

settlement
Settlements have been the target of growing Palestinian attacks
"I hope that in the near future I will be able to go where necessary and clear away whoever and whatever needs to be removed."

The Settlers' Council, which represents Jewish settlements, called on Mr Ben Eliezer to recognise the latest settlements as a "suitable response" to Palestinian attacks.

Eldad Bishari, a settler who moved a few months ago to Hill 782 - an outpost just above the West Bank settlement of Itamar, said: "We cannot give in, we cannot compromise, we cannot allow terrorism to achieve some of its goals."

But Mossi Raz, of the left-wing Meretz party and the former head of the Peace Now movement, said Mr Ben Eliezer had not gone far enough.

He said: "Outposts are built against the law and the army sends soldiers to endanger their lives in order to protect those same people who are breaking the law."


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