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Israeli high court removes major barrier to evacuating settlements


JERUSALEM - Israel's Supreme Court upheld a compensation law yesterday, erasing the main legal challenge to the government's plan to withdraw settlers from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank.

In a 10-1 decision, the court rejected claims that the law, enacted this year to provide a legal framework for the pullout, would violate the rights of about 8,000 settlers who are to be removed from their homes this summer. The justices ruled on a dozen petitions covering various aspects of the compensation law.

In the majority opinion, the justices said their decision was limited to legal questions. But they acknowledged that deep divisions over the controversial plan have proved wrenching for Israel.

"These are difficult times. A divided nation. Fear of violence. A painful and difficult separation of thousands of Israeli settlers from stretches of land where they have lived for years is approaching," the justices said in the introduction to the 320-page ruling.

But they determined that the law is proper and compensation fair.

The decision removes the most serious potential legal obstacle to the evacuation plan, which calls for abandoning all 21 Gaza settlements and four others in a corner of the northern West Bank. Officials said the ruling should prompt settlers to give up their fight and begin making plans to leave.

"Now we expect the residents to apply for compensation with the appropriate committees, the sooner, the better," Osnat Mandel, who supervises Supreme Court petitions in the state attorney's office, told Israel Radio.

Most families will receive between $200,000 and $500,000.

Attorneys for the settlers expressed disappointment, though they had held out little hope the court would toss out the law. The settlers sought unsuccessfully to have the justices visit the areas to be evacuated.

"The Supreme Court doesn't see the expulsion of 10,000 Jews from their homes with nothing in return as a problem, and this is a pity," attorney Yossi Fuchs told reporters.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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