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Israel evacuates Palestinians from tent outpost in West Bank

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By Ali Sawafta

E1, West Bank, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Israeli security forces evacuated about 100 Palestinians early on Sunday from an outpost of tents pitched in an area of the occupied West Bank that Israel has earmarked for a new settlement.

Israel's Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Palestinian outpost, built in the geographically sensitive area known as E1, could remain for six days while the issue of the removal of the tents was being discussed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the meantime, ordered those gathered there to be evacuated. A police spokesman said the court allowed for the removal of the protesters even if the tents, for now, will stay.

Netanyahu's pledge last November to build settlements on E1 caused an outcry, with European diplomats warning it could kill off any hope of creating a contiguous Palestinian state.

The prime minister's office said in a statement on Saturday that the government was petitioning the court to retract its ruling on the outpost, and had instructed security forces to block off roads leading to the rocky desert terrain.

Hours later, Israeli police and border guard officers entered the compound and told a crowd of about 100 to leave the 20 large, steel-framed tents that were erected a day earlier in an effort to preserve the land for a future Palestinian state.

Those protesters who refused to leave were carried down the hill by Israeli officers, but there was no violence.

"Everyone was evacuated carefully and swiftly, without any injuries to officers or protesters," said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

The encampment's name, "Bab el Shams," which means "Gateway to the Sun" in Arabic, was taken from a novel by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury that tells the history of the Palestinians through a love story. Earlier, the writer called the protesters in solidarity.

For years, Israel froze building in E1, which currently houses only a police headquarters, after coming under pressure from former U.S. President George W. Bush.

But Netanyahu recently announced plans to expand settlements after the Palestinians won de-facto statehood recognition at the U.N. General Assembly last year.

International powers view all Jewish settlement building in areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War as detrimental to securing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

E1 covers 4.6 square miles (12 square km) and is seen as particularly important because it not only juts into the narrow "waist" of the West Bank, but backs onto East Jerusalem, where Palestinians want to establish their capital.

Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank, which is dominated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction, and the Gaza Strip, which is run by the rival Islamist group Hamas.

About 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2010 over the issue of Israel's continued settlement building. (Editing by Peter Cooney)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130112/israel-evacuates-palestinians-tent-outpost-west-bank