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ISRAELI POLICE, SETTLERS CLASH

Israel has promised to remove Jewish settlers living illegally in Palestinian areas.

Pelted by rocks and chunks of metal, hundreds of Israeli riot police officers on Tuesday forcibly removed Jewish settlers from houses they had been occupying illegally for months in the West Bank city of Hebron.

The police said at least 15 people had been injured, 11 of them police officers. The settlers said 26 of their protesters had been treated for injuries. Five settlers were arrested for forcibly resisting a court order.

The scenes were reminiscent of some of the violent episodes during the evacuation of Israeli settlers from Gaza in 2005.

The confrontation on Tuesday began at dawn, and grew more heated as the police forced their way into occupied buildings that the inhabitants and their 200 or so supporters had welded shut and barricaded. The police were backed up by concentric circles of army troops that closed off the area.

The settlers, consisting of two families totaling 17 people, had moved back into Hebron's former Arab market, which Jews there said had been privately owned Jewish property before 1948. It is now owned by Palestinians. A third apartment was occupied overnight by protesters who barricaded themselves inside with flammable oxygen tanks.

A small part of Hebron is occupied by 650 Israeli settlers, living among thousands of Palestinians, under a 1997 deal with the Palestinian Authority.

The Israeli government gave the settlers significant notice. The relatively fierce confrontation served both the settlers and the government, creating heroes among the settlers and allowing the government to show to the world that removing the nearly 80,000 settlers who live beyond the separation barrier would not be an easy task.

All Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 boundaries are considered illegal by much of the world, which Israel disputes. But there are more than 20 settler outposts created since March 2001, illegal under Israeli law, that the government has promised Washington to dismantle but has not.

But more than the evacuation, Israelis on Tuesday debated the meaning of the refusal by a group of religious soldiers to participate in the operation. They consulted their parents and rabbis, who counseled many of them to call in sick or otherwise refuse orders to evacuate the settlers.

Twelve members of the Kfir regiment of religious soldiers refused their orders and were court-martialed, receiving sentences of up to a month in military jail.

The liberal newspaper Haaretz warned that the "ideological refusal to evacuate settlers is no longer a marginal phenomenon," suggesting that more parents and rabbis were telling students to refuse, with support from some conservative politicians.

One of them, Aryeh Eldad of the National Union Party, said that the episode was a warning to the government that "if they try to harness the army for expelling Jews, they will remain with no army."

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