Mitzpe Yitzhar (West Bank), June 19 (Reuters): Dozens of settlers scuffled with Israeli soldiers sent to take down a settler outpost today just hours after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed a shop owner in northern Israel.
Settler leaders planned to make Mitzpe Yitzhar a showcase of their opposition to a troubled US-backed peace “road map” which envisages the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. They were calling on settlers across the West Bank to flock to the site to block the evacuation. Israel’s first move against an inhabited outpost built without government approval — a key obligation charted by the road map — came a day before US secretary of state Colin Powell arrives to prop up the peace process.
Soldiers tried at first to drag away some of the 200 protesters who gathered at the site — it was unclear how many lived there — but the situation turned into a stalemate after the group sat down on a road to block army vehicles. “At the moment, we’re trying to calm people down and make them understand that this is a struggle for the land of Israel, not, God forbid, a war between brothers. We are all brothers,” settler-rabbi Elyakim Levanon said at the scene. “For every hill removed, two more will sprout in its place.”
Earlier, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a grocery store in northern Israel, killing its owner. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in the farming community of Sdeh Trumot near the West Bank, only hours after Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas again failed to persuade militants to make a truce with Israel.
But Powell held out a glimmer of hope for the battered peace plan, saying he saw signs of progress between Israelis and Palestinians on a security agreement for northern Gaza.
Speaking to reporters on a visit to Bangladesh, he also condemned the latest suicide bombings in Israel. Powell is due to hold talks in Israel and the West Bank with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Abbas tomorrow, in a follow up to their June 4 peace summit with US President George W. Bush in Aqaba, Jordan.
Since the summit, more than 50 people from both sides have been killed in a wave of violence.
“On a day when a Jew was killed and a day after a funeral for a seven-year-old girl, you don’t throw Jews out of the land of Israel,” Levanon said, referring to the suicide bombing and the killing of the child by Palestinian gunmen on Tuesday.
Dozens of outposts, most of them empty, dot the West Bank, part of an effort by settlers to extend the reach of established settlements on land Israel occupied in the 1967 war.