NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, August 8th 2007
BY MATTHEW KALMAN
SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
JERUSALEM - Wielding sledgehammers and power saws, Israeli police in riot gear smashed through doors and walls in a predawn raid on an illegal Jewish settlement in the West Bank town of Hebron yesterday, destroying three homes.
Police - more than 3,000 officers backed by soldiers - battled with more than 200 demonstrators who pelted them with stones, light bulbs, oil, flour and water.
"We will never surrender!" settler leaders chanted through bullhorns.
Settlers were dragged shouting and screaming from the houses, located in a former Arab market. Three young activists who barricaded themselves inside one of the homes were evicted by an elite army unit usually tasked with rescuing victims of earthquakes and collapsed buildings.
Four soldiers, 14 police officers and 12 settlers were injured during the operation, a police spokesman said. Eleven settlers were detained briefly and two were arrested.
The illegal settlement was built at the site of the ancient Jewish Quarter of the city, close to the Tombs of the Patriarchs. Two families were evicted, along with protesters who had occupied a third house in the area.
Tensions remain high in Hebron, the only town in the West Bank where Jewish settlers live in the middle of the Palestinian population under heavy military protection.
Settler leaders vowed not to allow more West Bank outposts to be demolished. They said the Hebron houses, populated in protest at the murder of baby Shalhevet Pass by a Palestinian sniper in 2001, would be rebuilt.
"We will return to the Shalhevet neighborhood and the families will be back in their homes," said Noam Arnon, spokesman for the Israeli settlers in Hebron.
The raid triggered a political debate inside Israel after several soldiers refused to follow orders to oust the settlers.
The destruction of the settler homes in the heart of Hebron came as Israeli leaders floated a new peace plan seeking to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank, with land inside Israel swapped for the larger settlement blocs.