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Israelis evict Palestinian protesters

A group of Palestinian protesters who had built a tented village in a strategically important area of the West Bank were yesterday evicted by Israeli police, less than 48 hours after beginning their action.

As many as 250 protesters were moved by the police and members of the Israeli Defence Force from the site in the area known as E1, east of Jerusalem, which has been earmarked for development by Israeli settlers. The Palestinians, borrowing a tactic from settlers in the West Bank, moved into the area on Friday saying that they wanted to establish "facts of the ground", a phrase often used during peace negotiations to recognise realities on the ground, rather than historic claims to ownership of land. The activists said that they wanted to build a village called Bab al-Shams, or Gateway to the Sun, at the site.

The bid comes two weeks after Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, said that Israel would press ahead with plans to build a settlement in the area, in response to the declaration at the United Nations of de facto Palestinian statehood in November.

The UN declaration attracted support from most nations, with Israel and the United States voting against the bid - the UK government abstained.

The commitment by the Israeli government to build settlements comes despite the area being internationally recognised as occupied Palestinian territory.

Palestinians say furthermore, that construction of a new settlement would seriously jeopardise the prospects of a future Palestinian state, as it would effectively cut off the West Bank from East Jerusalem, which they have designated as their capital city. The site cleared yesterday lies between East Jerusalem and the existing Jewish settlement of Maale Adumin.

Palestinian activist, Abdullah Abu Rahma, said that the protesters hoped to continue their action, and would re-pitch their tents. "Today, we will see if we can return," he said. It is thought that the Palestinians could repeat the move in other parts of the West Bank.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police evicted the protesters from the site after a court decision authorising their removal.

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