Israeli military removes rogue Jewish settlement; Leader, six others taken from West Bank hilltop


MA'ON FARM, West Bank -- Risking a violent confrontation, the Israeli military, in a rare operation today, removed a rogue Jewish settlement from this West Bank hilltop. The settlers had occupied an outpost called Ma'on Farm, a collection of trailers and one permanent dwelling in the barren area near Hebron.

About 4: 30 a.m., Israel issued a statement saying that the army, police and civil administration were conducting a joint operation to evacuate settlers from Ma'on Farm, the last of 12 settler outposts to be dismantled under a deal between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Israel's Jewish settler leadership.

The statement said the operation was being conducted under the authority of the political leadership, meaning the prime minister's office.

As the operation began under cover of darkness, about 1,000 military personnel encountered only passive resistance as they began carrying off 150 or more settlers and their supporters, a military official said.

By 6 a.m., four busloads, each containing 30 settlers, had been driven away from Ma'on Farm.

A soldier said the settlers yelled and cursed at army and police personnel but were not violent.

There are scorch marks on the dirt road leading to the farm and a burned-out vehicle where the settlers had tried to block the evacuation by setting fires. Settlers were hauled away on stretchers, some shouting, some crying. One young man sang as he walked away with soldiers escorting him.

A sobbing man with a small herd of goats was led down the path by soldiers. Security forces began dismantling the synagogue built of stone and planks that was erected over the past several weeks as a symbol of the settlers' resistance.

A man was hauled from inside the synagogue. Another was pulled from the roof.

Yehosafat Tor, 29, the settlement's leader, was pulled from his home early today with about six others. He was held on the ground, surrounded by soldiers and police who attempted to keep away members of the press. Tor's removal appeared to end the drama.

Earlier, women and children huddled in a corner of Tor's house. As the women were hauled out, Shira Tor, his wife, yelled that Jewish blood had been spilled at the farm, making it sacred.

Her statement was a reference to the slaying several years ago of Dov Dribben, who was killed in a fight with neighboring Arabs. A sign outside the settlement says: "Dov Dribben was murdered here. Do not destroy his home."

Said one of four youths hiding under the house of the soldiers: "Their job is to get us out. Our job is to stay. Everyone does his job."

Barak allowed 30 settlements to remain in exchange for the Yesha Council, the settler leadership, dismantling the other 12 settlements.

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