More than 160 people have been injured in violent clashes between ultranationalist Jews and Israeli police, who were ordered to tear down part of an illegal West Bank settlement. Riot police on horses used clubs and water cannon to beat back a crowd of several thousand in the outpost of Amona.
The settlement near the Palestinian city of Ramallah is one of 24 unauthorised outposts targeted for removal.
Stepping out of the shadow of the incapacited Ariel Sharon, Israeli interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the partial demolition. Challenging far-right settlers appears to a calculated political risk on his part ahead of elections on March 28.
It is a risk these settlers hope backfires:
“I don’t know what is the reason that someone made a decision to strike and use so much violence,” said one, while another added: “You have to see how they use force against children, against old people and he thinks that will make him popular. I hope and pray he will get his punishment in the elections.”
Opinion polls show Olmert is likely to lead the centrist Kadima party to victory on a platform of seeking peace with the Palestinians but taking unilateral moves if no deal is in sight.
Bulldozers have pulled down nine stone houses at Amona but Israel intends to allow several dozen families in trailer homes to remain pending further discussion.