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Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK
West Bank outposts uprooted
Right-wing demonstrators hold signs, one showing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat leading along Israel's FM Shimon Peres followed by PM Ariel Sharon
Right-wing Israelis protest outside Ben-Eliezer's office (AP)
The first two of 10 Jewish outposts in the West Bank ordered to be dismantled by Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer have been removed.

The small communities, unauthorised by the Israeli Government, have grown up close to approved Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Mr Ben-Eliezer was initially reported to have ordered that all 10 be dismantled by the end of Sunday. But this has been put back to the end of Monday, with another 10 to go by the middle of July.

A digger sorting debris in Hebron
In Hebron, the search for bodies continues
About 200,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, although their settlements are illegal under international law.

The two outposts dismantled on Sunday are reported to have been removed without any resistance.

But the settlers - many of whom say they have a biblical right to the land - have condemned the defence minister's decision.

The Yesha Council of Jewish settlements described the decision as "reward and encouragement for terrorists".

Mr Ben-Eliezer has spearheaded the current Israeli military campaign which has seen the army take control of seven of the eight main towns in the West Bank, and confine more than 700,000 Palestinians to their homes in recent days.

Hebron search

The Israeli incursions, which have only spared Jericho, are in response for two devastating Palestinian suicide bomb attacks that killed 26 Israelis in Jerusalem over a week ago.

Palestinian women at an Israeli checkpoint
700,000 Palestinians are under curfew
In Hebron, Israeli troops and bulldozers have continued searching through the rubble of the Palestinian Authority's local headquarters, which they blew up in two huge explosions on Friday night.

But more than 24 hours after the demolition, no trace had been found of 15 wanted Palestinian militants who were believed to be hiding inside.

Palestinian officials said the militants had escaped, while the Israelis indicated that their bodies might be buried in the rubble.

Outposts

Israel's defence ministry must approve any new developments, but the so-called rogue outposts have never received government approval.

Mr Ben-Eliezer told Israeli television that the first outposts to be uprooted would be those that were most vulnerable to Palestinian attack and least populated.

A spokesman for the defence minister said it was hoped that a negotiated agreement could be reached with the settlers.

The Palestinians have dismissed the move.

The decision to evacuate the outposts is merely a "ploy" designed to deceive public opinion, Palestinian news agency Wafa reported on its website.

A BBC correspondent in Jerusalem, Clare Marshall, says Mr Ben-Eliezer's motivation for removing the outposts now is unclear.

It could be a government crackdown, given their illegal status, or it could be an attempt by Mr Ben-Eliezer, who is leader of the traditionally left-of-centre Labor party, to appear as a moderate.

Analysts say there is a backlash brewing in the party against the current incursions in the West Bank.

Territorial markers

Since Ariel Sharon was elected Israeli prime minister, about 44 of these outposts have been established.

An outpost can be as basic as a territorial marker placed by settlers in Palestinian-controlled land.

Some are unmanned, represented only by a piece of old furniture or a rusty container; others are populated by small communities of settlers living in caravans or mobile homes.

Amenities are basic and few outposts have access to running-water.

The caravans are usually set up on mountain tops for security reasons, but they are vulnerable to attack from Palestinian militants.


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