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Israel Orders Removal of 10 Illegal West Bank Settlements

Israel has issued orders for the army to remove Sunday what it calls 10 illegal outposts of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. The decision has set the stage for possible confrontations with militant settler groups, which are strongly opposed to the move.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said he will uproot 10 outposts established in the West Bank by Jewish settlers, without the permission of the government. He said that the task is to be completed by midnight Sunday and that it is only the first step in a wider program to dismantle rogue settlements.

Israel's Interior Ministry said that there are currently 20 Jewish outposts in the West Bank built without government approval and Mr. Ben-Eliezer said he is determined to see all of them removed.

His comments have angered the Yesha Council, the group that represents the Jewish settler movement. The council describes Mr. Ben-Eliezer's decision as "a reward and encouragement for [Palestinian] terrorism."

Many of the encampments that have been declared illegal were built near the sites where Jews in the West Bank were killed in attacks, often as they drove down highways in the territory. Some of the outposts were established by placing a shipping container or a mobile home at the site.

Some 200,000 Jews live in settlements across the West Bank, one of the territories seized by Israel during the 1967 Middle East War.

The area formed part of biblical Israel, and many Jewish settlers say the territory is part of the land that was given to the Jewish people by God.

Palestinians claim that the whole of the West Bank and Gaza Strip should be handed over to them to lay the foundation of an independent state. Militant Palestinians believe the settlements are legitimate targets of attacks.

The move to dismantle some of the Jewish outposts comes amid heightened tensions in the region following Israel's destruction of a Palestinian Authority compound in the West Bank city of Hebron.

The fate of some 15 Palestinian fugitives who had been inside and refused to surrender remains unclear. Israel now believes that they may have escaped before the complex was blown up. The fortress-like building was destroyed as part of a wider Israeli military offensive against the West Bank aimed at halting terrorist attacks.

Palestinian militants groups signaled Sunday that they would not halt their campaign, when they set off a bomb on a train line near the central Israeli city of Lod. The explosion hurt three people and caused minor damage to one of the rail cars.