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Israeli Defense Minister Accuses Settlers of Insurrection Against Army - 2002-10-20

Israel's Defense Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has accused Jewish settlers of mounting an insurrection against the Israeli army. His comments Sunday came one day after security forces were violently assaulted by settlers, who were being forcibly removed from an illegal outpost in the West Bank.

Israeli Defense Minister Ben-Eliezer says Jewish settlers are leading a rebellion against the Israeli security forces. He was speaking after police and soldiers in the West Bank on Saturday were met with a hail of stones before being set upon by Jewish settlers wielding metal rods and other makeshift weapons.

Some 30 soldiers, police and settlers were wounded in the violent clashes, in an operation to evacuate the Jewish settler outpost of Havat Gilad, in the West Bank.

The outpost is one of about 20 settlements that Mr. Ben-Eliezer said has been built without government approval and must be dismantled. He rejected calls Sunday by Israeli right-winger politicians to resign, after Israeli troops were sent on the Jewish Sabbath to begin the evacuation.

Mr. Ben-Eliezer denies that he gave the order, which contravenes the normal policy of preventing Jews from traveling on the Sabbath, unless it is to save lives. He said he has ordered the army to investigate the matter. At the same time, he said he intends to "carry out to the end" the evacuation of all "illegal" Jewish outposts.

Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, also criticized Jewish settlers for attacking security forces. At the same time, he apologized that soldiers were ordered to carry out the operation on Saturday, which he said had forced them to desecrate the Sabbath in an "unnecessary fashion".

Some 200,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, one of the territories captured by Israel during the 1967 war. The Israeli Government has supported the settlers and is committed to protecting them. At the same time, the Government says it is opposed to settlers establishing new communities in remote areas, without approval.