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Defiant group dedicates West Bank seminary
( 2004-01-05 16:09) (Agencies)

Defiant Jewish settlers held a ceremony at an unauthorized outpost, underlining the pressures Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will face in removing the tiny settlements despite stiff opposition from his own supporters.

Hundreds of West Bank settlers, dancing, singing and carrying assault rifles, gathered at the outpost of West Tapuah on Sunday night to bring a Torah scroll into their synagogue, in a show of stubborn permanence.

Under the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan, which Israel signed in June, scores of such outposts put up in the last three years must be dismantled.

The government last week ordered the removal of four, only one of them populated, but settlers appealed the orders. Sharon on Sunday ordered two others dismantled Havat Maon, where two families live, and Tal Binyamin, a synagogue.

Security officials said Sunday that the army has formulated a plan to dismantle the six outposts.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 3,500 soldiers and police officers will participate in the evacuations. Troops were waiting for a Supreme Court decision, expected in the next few days, the officials said.

The commander of the Israeli military, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, was adamant. "We don't want any confrontations, it's not good for the army, not for the settlers, not for anyone," he told Channel 10 TV. "But if we don't have any choice and we have to confront them, we will."

The United States has been pressuring Sharon, a strong supporter of the settler movement, to live up to his commitment and tear them down. However, members of his Likud Party and others in his hard-line coalition deeply oppose such a move.

The outposts often no more than a trailer and an Israeli flag perched on a barren West Bank hilltop have angered Palestinians, who see them as seeds of future Jewish settlements on land they claim for a future state.

Likud activists planned a convention on Monday at which many were expected to voice opposition to Sharon's proposal to remove some settlements as part of a unilateral set of measures if peace talks break down.

The government recently paved a road leading up to the West Tapuah outpost, established by followers of the late U.S.-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, who pushed for the expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the West Bank and was assassinated in New York in 1990.

At nightfall Sunday, hundreds marched to the outpost, which consists of three buildings, carrying banners of the banned Kach movement and signs reading "Kahane was right." Some set off fireworks.

At the ceremony, the militant "Kahane Lives" group, which is on the U.S. State Department terrorist list, dedicated a seminary at West Tapuah. Justice Minister Yosef Lapid told Israel TV that the seminary was going to teach Kahane's "fascist principles," and the government must shut it down. Kahane's political party and movement were outlawed as racist by the Israeli government.

Children waving torches in the darkness shouted, "Expel the Arabs!"

"For a long time Jews didn't live here," said a man who identified himself only as Jonathan. "This is the real Jewish state, now we have it we have to defend it."

Also Sunday, the Israeli justice minister criticized the route of a security barrier Israel is building that dips deep into the West Bank, saying it could lead the world to ostracize Israel the way it did apartheid South Africa.

Lapid asked the Cabinet to consider moving the barrier's route to a far less controversial path on the so-called Green Line, Israel's pre-1967 borders. No decision was made Sunday.

Israel says the barrier of fences, walls, trenches and razor wire is needed to keep suicide bombers out of the country. Its snaking path was designed to separate the two populations, keeping as many Jewish settlements on the Israeli side of the barrier and as many Palestinian towns on the other side.

Critics say the barrier is making life unbearable for thousands of Palestinians separated from their fields, basic services and families. The United Nations has referred the issue to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands, for an advisory opinion.

"The decision to turn to the International Court at the Hague about the fence is the first step in an attempt that threatens to turn us into South Africa," Lapid told Israel's Channel Two TV.

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