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Israel blocks activists from returning to E1 protest camp

Jan. 15, 2013 10:25 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 17, 2013 1:09 P.M.)
E1 (Reuters) -- Israeli police, using stun grenades, blocked about 50 Palestinian activists who tried on Tuesday to reoccupy a tented protest camp they pitched last week in the West Bank.

Israel has drawn strong international criticism over plans to build settler homes in the area, known as "E1", which connects the two parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank outside Palestinian suburbs of East Jerusalem.

On Sunday, hundreds of police officers evicted the protesters from the "Bab al-Shams" encampment, and activists said six were hurt in the process. The large, steel-framed tents remained standing at the site pending the outcome of Israeli Supreme Court hearings on Israel's intention to remove them.

Protesters who tried to return to the tents on Tuesday were confronted by police officers who told them the site had been designated off-limits by the army.

One activist wore a white bridal gown and their cars were decked out in bright ribbons, making the protest look like a traditional Palestinian wedding.

"The protesters continued to make their way up. Police pushed the protesters back down the hill," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. "Two stun grenades were used to disperse the protesters and prevent attempts to climb back up."

Twenty Palestinians were detained for questioning, he said.

For years Israel froze building in E1, after coming under pressure from former US President George W. Bush to keep the plans on hold.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans late last year to expand settlements after the Palestinians won de-facto statehood recognition at the United Nations General Assembly in November.

Jewish settlement building in areas captured by Israel in a 1967 war are illegal under international law. World powers have slammed the E1 settlement plan, echoing Palestinians concern such construction could deny them a viable and contiguous state.

E1 covers some 4.6 sq miles and is seen as particularly important because it not only juts into the narrow "waist" of the West Bank, but also backs onto East Jerusalem, the capital of the promised independent Palestinian state.

Ma'an staff in Bethlehem contributed to this report
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