Israel Evicts Palestinians From Protest Camp

Palestinian protesters have been forced out of a camp they set up in an area earmarked for a Jewish housing project.

Israeli police backed by bulldozers evicted the group from the West Bank hilltop in the early hours of Sunday, two days after 200 Palestinian activists pitched tents in an area known as E1.

The protesters had ignored Israeli orders to leave until police moved in.

One Palestinian legislator, Mustafa Barghouti, said: "Hundreds of Israeli police came from all directions, surrounding all those who were in the tents and arresting them one by one."

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said no arrests had been made.

"They were told they were trespassing and carefully escorted from the site one by one," he said. "Nobody was hurt on either side."

About 500 police took part in the operation, he added. He said the tents were not dismantled and that a decision on that would be made later.

Protest organisers said six people were hurt as they were carried away by police and vowed that the protest would not be the last of its kind.

In documents released to the media, Israeli state lawyers argued that if the protest were allowed to continue there was a danger that right-wing Israeli settlers, "some of them extremists", would head for the site to stage counter-demonstrations which could result in "breaches of the peace against Palestinians and security forces".

Israel announced it was moving forward with the E1 settlement after the UN recognised a de facto state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in November.

Palestinians say E1 would be a major blow to their statehood aspirations because it blocks east Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland.

The construction plans drew unusually sharp criticism from some of Israel's staunchest allies including the US, which is strongly opposed to the E1 project.

Israeli officials have said construction may be years away if it ever happens, and some doubt whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really intends to develop E1 or is pandering to hard-liners ahead of Israel's January 22 election.