Palestinians clash with soldiers outside West Bank outpost on eve of evacuation

Red Crescent says 61 hurt, including six hit by rubber-tipped bullets; under agreement with government, settlers to leave site by 4 p.m. Friday

Palestinian protesters use laser torches during a demonstration against the Israeli settlers' outpost of Evyatarin the West Bankon July 1, 2021.  (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)
Palestinian protesters use laser torches during a demonstration against the Israeli settlers' outpost of Evyatarin the West Bankon July 1, 2021. (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Hundreds of Palestinians gathered outside the illegal Evyatar outpost in the West Bank late Thursday, throwing rocks and firebombs and shooting fireworks at IDF troops at the scene, the army said.

The violent protest came on the eve of a partial evacuation of the wildcat settlement set for Friday under an agreement reached between the government and the settlers.

IDF troops responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported it treated 61 people, including six hit by rubber bullets. The rest suffered from tear gas inhalation.

The protest came on the final night that civilians will remain at the contested site.

Earlier this week Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz reached an agreement whereby the settlers will evacuate Evyatar by 4 p.m. Friday, but the state will work to legalize control of the land and establish a yeshiva at the site at a later date.

An Israeli settler rides a donkey as others build large Star of David in the recently established wildcat outpost of Eviatar near the West Bank city of Nablus, Thursday, July 1, 2021. Israel has reached a compromise with Jewish settlers whereby they will leave by the end of the week and the area will become a closed military zone; houses and roads will remain in place. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

After the residents leave the hilltop site, the local council will have an additional week to empty and lock its buildings and structures.

In the meantime, the Israel Defense Forces will establish an “immediate round-the-clock presence” at the outpost.

The Defense Ministry will carry out a survey of the land to establish which parts can be declared state land and which parts are considered to be private Palestinian property.

“Lands that are found to belong to the state will be declared as such, while those that are private will be evacuated,” a statement released late Wednesday by Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo said, noting that buildings will not be demolished until the land’s status is clarified.

As soon as possible after the lands are declared state property, a yeshiva, including housing, will be established at the site, and a permanent civilian presence will be permitted there once all permits are issued, the statement said.

On Wednesday, residents of Evyatar gave their final approval to the deal, according to the Samaria Regional Council.

Settlers at the seen at the illegal outpost of Evyatar in the West Bank on June 29, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Bennett, a former director of the Yesha council settler lobby, was reported Sunday to be eager to avoid the spectacle of the outpost being removed under his leadership, especially given the current political situation in which the coalition is struggling to maintain a majority in the Knesset.

The prime minister’s position evidently won the day, despite Gantz and the security establishment’s initial insistence that the outpost be removed, given the strain it causes on the IDF, which will now be forced to secure the community.

The international community regards all settlements in the West Bank as illegal but Israeli law differentiates between settlements permitted by the Defense Ministry and outposts established without permission, often by ideologically motivated youths. Many settlements started life as illegal outposts and only gained retroactive government approval after reaching a critical mass of residents.

Earlier iterations of Evyatar have been razed several times since Israelis first tried to settle the site in 2013.

Israeli settlers march with flags at the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar on June 21, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The outpost is located on land south of Nablus that Palestinians say had historically been part of the Palestinian villages of Beita, Kablan and Yitma, though residents of those towns have been barred access for decades over what the IDF has said were security reasons. The land went uncultivated, opening it up for confiscation by the state for public use, based on West Bank property laws. Before that can happen though, the Civil Administration is required to survey the land to confirm its status, a step that Evyatar settlers did not wait for before moving in.

The outpost has grown quickly over the last two months, swelling to roughly 50 mobile homes and other makeshift structures housing dozens of families. Its Facebook page boasts that Evyatar prevents contiguity between the surrounding Palestinian villages while connecting the Israeli settlement of Tapuah to the Za’atara Junction and Migdalim settlement.

The population further ballooned this week as far-right youths set up camp at the site and prepared to resist the looming evacuation.

The area near the outpost has seen repeated clashes in recent weeks as Palestinians protested the creation of the outpost, in some cases hurling stones at troops and burning swaths of land. Israeli soldiers have responded with riot dispersal munitions and in some cases, live bullets, killing four Palestinians.

Palestinians protest against the Evyatar outpost in the nearby village of Beta, in the northern West Bank, on June 27, 2021. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The US State Department on Wednesday condemned the new West Bank outpost.

“We believe it is critical to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance equal measures of freedom, security and prosperity and a negotiated two-state solution. This certainly includes establishing new outposts which are illegal even under Israeli law,” a State Department spokesperson said when asked for comment on Evyatar.

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