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11 Israeli police officers injured, 2 settlers arrested during evacuation of Ofra outpost

Feb. 28, 2017 7:04 P.M. (Updated: March 30, 2017 12:04 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Two Israeli settlers were arrested while at least eleven Israeli police officers sustained light injuries on Tuesday as Israeli forces began evacuating nine homes in the illegal Israeli Ofra outpost, located in the central occupied West Bank district of Ramallah, according to Israeli police and media.

The nine homes were built illegally in 2008 on private Palestinian land, and were ordered to be demolished by the Israeli high court in 2015, with the final demolition date set for March 5, 2017.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri said in a statement Tuesday that eleven Israeli police officer sustained “minor bruises and even bites” as two settlers were arrested “on suspicion of assaulting police officers and disturbing the peace,” during the evacuation of the homes.

Israeli news daily Haaretz reported that while eight homes had been cleared out -- with the residents of the homes leaving voluntarily -- hundreds of extreme right-wing Israelis and pro-settler activists had barricaded themselves inside the final ninth home, upon request of the family.

On Monday, Israel’s high court rejected an appeal by Ofra settlers to halt the upcoming evacuation, requesting that the nine buildings be sealed off rather than destroyed, in hopes that the homes would be eligible for retroactive legalization in accordance with the “Regularization law” passed earlier this month.

The law could grant official Israeli governmental recognition to more than a dozen illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank established on private Palestinian lands.

The law states that any settlements built in the West Bank “in good faith” -- without knowledge that the land upon which it was built was privately owned by Palestinians -- could be officially recognized by Israel pending minimal proof of governmental support in its establishment and some form of compensation to the Palestinian landowners.

The high court ruled, however, that the law did not apply to the nine homes and that the demolitions must be carried out.

Prior to the passage of the Regularization law, Ynet reported that Israeli officials had met with settlers from the illegal Ofra outpost to inform them of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s determination to pass the bill into law, as well approve the construction of 68 housing units there.

Meanwhile, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has repeatedly stated that the bill contravenes both Israeli and international law and that the Israeli Supreme Court would likely strike it down, while Israeli officials have also reportedly expressed worry that the passage of the bill could land Israel in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Tuesday’s scenes at Ofra of hundreds of pro-settler activists barricading themselves inside homes, protesting, and clashing with mostly unarmed Israeli police officers mirrored the evacuation of the illegal Amona outpost earlier this month, in which 13 Israeli settlers were arrested and 24 Israeli police officers were injured.

Like the nine homes in Ofra, the Amona outpost was ordered to be demolished as per a Supreme Court ruling for being built on private Palestinian land, and was also excluded from being retroactively legalized by the Regularization law.

At the time of Amona evacuation, head of the Joint List Ayman Odeh, a member of the Knesset and a Palestinian citizen of Israel, criticized the police’s double standard between use of force in Amona and in Bedouin villages in the Negev.

“Amona is being evacuated after being built on Palestinian lands that were stolen 20 years ago, while Umm al-Hiran residents were being evacuated from their own lands, without stealing anyone else's lands,” Odeh said in a post on Facebook, referring to the deadly evacuation of a Bedouin village in January, during which the MK himself was injured.

“Unarmed Israeli police is evacuating Amona in broad daylight, where they are being very cautious in dealing with Israeli settlers, while Israeli police carried out demolitions in Umm al-Hiran completely armed and equipped with military supplies,” Odeh added.

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