West Bank settlement evacuation started by Israeli forces

Israeli forces have started an operation to evacuate settlers from a West Bank outpost whose slated destruction could rupture Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's narrow coalition.

Unarmed police in blue sweatshirts and black baseball caps made their way up the hill at Amona at about midday on Wednesday.

On the hilltop, youngsters erected makeshift barricades from smashed tiles, rusty metal bars and large rocks to slow their advance to the settlement which houses 250 people.

Some protesters threw rocks at security forces while others set fire to rubbish piles.

Activists gathered in homes, praying, singing religious songs and dancing.

Residents have said they plan to resist their evacuation peacefully. Some chained themselves to heavy objects and locked their doors.

A few residents left their homes with young children in the arms.

Shortly after noon, bulldozers began making their way up the hill, one of them clearing a path.

Several activists crawled under a house and chained themselves to its foundations while others pleaded with officers to refuse their orders.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said that as part of "the dialogue" with residents ahead of the evacuation, one of the families handed over a bag of stun grenades.

Amona is the largest of about 100 unauthorised outposts erected in the West Bank without permission but generally tolerated by the Israeli government.

Israel's Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that Amona was built on private Palestinian land and must be demolished. It has set February 8 as the final date for it to be destroyed.

The outpost, built in the 1990s, stretches out over a rugged, grassy hilltop and looks out across the valley onto Palestinian villages.

In 2006, also on February 1, Israeli police demolished nine homes at Amona, setting off violent clashes pitting settlers and their supporters against police and soldiers.

The fate of Amona has threatened to destabilise Mr Netanyahu's narrow coalition that includes the pro-settler party Jewish Home and other hardliners.

However, it is unlikely that Amona's demise would be sufficient to topple the government as the nationalist parties have too much to lose by leaving Mr Netanyahu's government at this stage.

Speaking at Israel's parliament as the evacuation was in process, education minister Naftali Bennett - leader of the Jewish Home Party - called the Amona settlers "heroes" and vowed to "build a new settlement."

- AP


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