Israel forces Palestinians from controversial settlement site

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Israeli police early Sunday started evicting Palestinian protesters from a hilltop camp they set up in a West Bank area slated for Jewish settlement, an AFP journalist on the scene reported.

“Israel forces have entered the camp,” one of the protest organizers, Abir Copty confirmed to AFP.

About 200 Palestinian activists set up the camp on Friday in the controversial E1 area between Israeli annexed east Jerusalem and the settlement of Maaleh Adumim.

The protesters had defied Israeli orders to leave until police backed by bulldozers moved in at around 2.30 am (0030 GMT).

“Hundreds of Israeli police came from all directions, surrounding all those who were in the tents and arresting them one by one,” Palestinian legislator Mustafa Barghouti told AFP.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday he was seeking court approval to remove an outpost of Palestinian tents pitched in the geographically sensitive area E1.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Palestinian outpost in E1 could remain for six days while the issue of its removal was being discussed.

Netanyahu’s pledge last November to build settlements on E1 caused an outcry, with European diplomats warning that it could kill off any hope of creating a contiguous Palestinian state.

The prime minister's office said in a statement on Saturday that the government was petitioning the court to retract its ruling on the outpost, and had instructed security forces to block off roads leading to the rocky desert terrain.

A group of Palestinian lawmakers was refused entry. But others who came from nearby villages made the long trek up the hillside northeast of Jerusalem to join scores of protesters who have erected 20 large, steel-framed tents in an effort to preserve the land for a future Palestinian state.

The encampment’s name, “Bab el Shams”, which means “Gateway to the Sun” in Arabic, was taken from a novel by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury which tells the history of the Palestinians through a love story. The writer called the protesters in solidarity.

Hanan Ashrawi, a top Palestine Liberation Organization official, said Israeli forces had prevented her from entering the compound with other lawmakers.

“We will continue to try to enter the village of Bab el Shams, which to us means freedom,” she told Reuters.

For years Israel froze building in E1, which currently houses only a police headquarters, after coming under pressure from former U.S. President George W. Bush.

But Netanyahu has recently announced a wave of plans to expand settlements after the Palestinians won de-facto statehood recognition at the United Nations General Assembly last year.

Israel plans new homes in Jordan valley

Meanwhile, Israel’s defense ministry has published plans for 170 new housing units and another 84 guest rooms in the West Bank settlement of Rotem in the Jordan Valley, AFP reported anti-settlement activists as saying on Sunday.

The settlement itself previously received government approval, but no building plan was set out, according to Hagit Ofran of the Peace Now organisation.

“Last week it was deposited for public review. It is talking about 200 units, 30 of them are already built. In addition, another 84 units are proposed for guest rooms,” she said.

“It will be deposited for 60 days for the public to file objections. After all objections are collected and heard, the planning committee will decide whether to approve or refuse the plan. Usually they approve it.”