Wed, Jan 05, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Soldier arrested for opposing Israeli settler evacuation

AP , JERUSALEM AND BEIT LAHIYA, GAZA STRIP

An Israeli soldier was arrested on Monday for calling on his comrades to refuse to evacuate a West Bank settlement outpost, the army said, in the first case of its kind.

The incident came a day after settler leaders warned the army chief of staff that hundreds, and possibly thousands, of soldiers could refuse to carry out orders to evacuate Gaza Strip settlers if the government goes ahead with a plan to withdraw from the coastal area later this year.

The soldier was arrested as troops battled with settlers to remove two structures from the site. The move was done in accordance with an order several months ago warning the settlers to remove the structures or face having them destroyed.

A paramilitary border policeman was wounded, the army said.

The arrested soldier, a resident of the settlement outpost, was from the same unit that carried out the demolition -- but was on leave at the time, the army said.

The soldier, in uniform and carrying his rifle, refused to leave one of the structures and called on his comrades to refuse to carry out their orders.

In recent years, Jewish settlers have filled many key positions in the army's officer corps. Military and government officials have repeatedly expressed concern about the possibility of insubordination.

The site, named Mitzpe Yizhar, is a tiny, unauthorized satellite of the government-approved Yizhar settlement, which has a population of about 300 fiercely ultranationalist residents.

Yariv Oppenheimer, spokesman for Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now, said there are still about 100 such outposts in place. He said the slow pace of evictions bears witness to the government's lack of will to deal with the issue.

"If the state really wanted to, it could remove these outposts quickly, and with far less fuss," he said.

Meanwhile, an Israeli tank fired two shells in response to Palestinian mortar attacks yesterday, killing seven Palestinians and wounding six in the deadliest single incident in the Gaza Strip in three months.

The shells slammed into fields as farmers were picking potatoes and strawberries, witnesses said. Several minutes earlier, masked Palestinian militants had fired mortar shells from the farming area at Israeli targets.

Mahmoud al-Asli, director of the Kamal Adwan Hospital in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, said the dead were between the ages of 11 and 17. He said six were from the one extended family, including three brothers.

However, the Israeli military said it was told by Palestinian liaison officers that six of the dead were 17 and older, and that four or five of them were members of the Islamic militant group Hamas.

Six people were wounded, including four in critical condition, doctors said. At the Beit Lahiya hospital, the floor of the emergency room was covered with blood, and several women fainted at the entrance to the morgue.

With Palestinian elections less than a week away, leading candidate Mahmoud Abbas took an uncompromising stance on a touchy issue -- refugees.

Abbas was campaigning on Monday for a third straight day in Gaza. Addressing a rally, Abbas said that Palestinian refugees and their descendants from the two-year war that followed Israel's creation had the right to return to their original homes.

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