Page last updated at 13:24 GMT, Thursday, 21 May 2009 14:24 UK

Israeli police remove settlement outpost


The BBC's Katya Adler visits the dismantled settlement in Maoz Ester

Israeli police have destroyed the small illegal settler outpost camp of Maoz Ester in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law and widely considered a barrier to peace.

But the outpost of seven huts, east of Ramallah, was among dozens of sites also illegal under Israeli law, built without government authorisation.

The Israeli move comes after the US secretary of state called for an end to "any kind" of settlement activity.

Katya Adler
Katya Adler, BBC News, Maoz Ester

The bulldozers tore down the shacks in moments. Now children play in the piles of books and bedclothes, as their parents hammer the homes back together.

It is all an incongruous sight, in the middle of the surrounding expanse of barren hills. But it is a familiar one for the settlers, who believe God gave them all rights to this land. This outpost has been torn down and rebuilt several times before.

Palestinians call this a cynical game by successive Israeli governments who have yet to demonstrate they are really serious about dismantling illegal outposts, most of which are bigger and more established than this one.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned on Wednesday from talks with US President Barack Obama, his Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned settlers the outposts would be removed by force if negotiations failed.

The few families living at Maoz Ester vowed to rebuild the outpost.

Small outposts like it are periodically destroyed and often rebuilt soon afterwards.

But correspondents say it is much rarer and more politically difficult for the government to evacuate larger ones.

Israel pledged to remove the outposts under the 2003 "road map" peace plan, but has argued that the Palestinians have not met their parallel commitments to dismantle militant infrastructure.

Both Mr Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Israel to freeze settlement activity during Mr Netanyahu's US visit.

West Bank map

Mr Netanyahu has said he will not create new settlements, but backs development within existing ones, which he says is necessary to allow for the "natural growth" of their populations.

But in an interview with Arab news channel al-Jazeera, Mrs Clinton said "we want to see a stop to settlement construction, additions, natural growth - any kind of settlement activity".

Israel has also agreed to halt settlement activity, but has continued to build - mainly in settlement blocs on the west side of the West Bank barrier, areas Israel hopes to keep as part of an eventual peace deal.

Close to half a million Jewish settlers live in communities around the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Some are there because of religious and ideological convictions, others live in settlements for lifestyle or economic reasons.

For Palestinians the settlements and the security infrastructure surrounding them are a major obstacle to their hopes of a viable state of their own.

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