Demolition orders for 18 buildings were handed out shortly before noon on Tuesday to residents of the illegal Havat Ma'on outpost south of Mt. Hebron.
The orders that were distributed were essentially a renewal of previously existing orders, Army Radio reported. Their distribution, however, may have signalled a greater intention on the government's part to execute them.
The illegal outpost is set to be the first of 24 that will be evacuated in accordance with a promise Ariel Sharon made to the US. On Sunday, the Jerusalem Post
had learned that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government planned to stand firm on Sharon's commitment.
It has let the settlers know that there is no room for compromise on these 24 which it considers to have been illegally built, the source said. They include six outposts that are the subject of a Peace Now petition before the High Court of Justice and for which evacuation orders were first signed more than two years ago.
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Those six are Ramat Gilad-Givat Hadegel, Givat Assaf, Ma'aleh Rehavam, Mitzpe Lachish, Givat Haroeh (Apirion Hill) and Mitzpe Yitzhar (Givat Yitzhar).
The government is looking to secure an agreement with the settlers by which it would allow the fate of the remaining 81 outposts to be determined as part of the realignment plan if the settlers promise to allow for the peaceful evacuation of the 24 outposts, the source said.
"They [the settlers] can buy time but they cannot buy a commitment [with respect to the remaining 81 outposts," the source told the Post
The issue with respect to the 24 outposts is not one of borders but of principle, said the source. Israel had promised the US as part of its commitment to the road map that it would remove the outposts, and this government believes that it must make good on that pledge, said the source.
The government had delayed any action on the matter because of last summer's pullout from Gaza, said the source.
He added that dismantling the outposts was not a statement regarding Israel's final borders. The cabinet in March 2005 voted to remove these outposts.
Gush Etzion regional council head Shaul Goldstein told the Post yesterday he had recently heard from the government of its plans to uphold its promise to the US to demolish the 24 outposts.
Binyamin Regional Council head Pinhas Wallerstein and MK Uri Ariel (National Union) both told the Post they were not interested in making any compromises with respect to the outposts, but they were willing to open a line of dialogue with the government.
To this end, they along with settlers leader Ze'ev Hever met with Justice Minister Haim Ramon on Sunday. At the request of these three settler leaders, Ramon agreed to allow representatives of the Council of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip to address the outpost committee which he chairs.
His committee is actually the revival of a committee headed by former justice minister Tzipi Livni. It was created after attorney Talia Sasson submitted her comprehensive report on illegal outposts on March 9, 2005, at Sharon's request. Sasson found that at least 105 illegal outposts had been constructed in the last decade.
According to Peace Now, which monitors outpost activity, some 50 of them were built after Sharon entered office in March 2001.
No outposts have been built since the Sasson Report was released. Ramon has said he believes that it was the goal of the committee to prevent any further outposts from being created.
He has also told the media that he believes that the issue of the outposts should be considered separately from Olmert's realignment plan to withdraw from isolated areas of Judea and Samaria.
During their meeting Sunday, which lasted for close to two hours, both Ramon and the settlers remained entrenched in their positions even though they felt that it was important to talk and to continue the dialogue between the two groups.
"I hope it advanced the dialogue between us," said Ariel.
Settler leaders warned Ramon Sunday that demolishing unauthorized outposts would tear the nation apart.
"We wanted to warn him that taking steps against the outposts could divide the nation," Wallerstein told the Post following the meeting.
Both Ariel and Wallerstein told the Post that there was no attempt to broker any kind of compromise regarding the outposts during the meeting.
They said they presented Ramon with facts and figures that contradicted the Sasson Report.
"The subject of a compromise didn't even come up," said Ariel.
He said he urged Ramon to wait on the outpost issue and to urge the government to examine it as part of the realignment plan.
"If you are going to evacuate Jews from Samaria why do you have to take down an outpost now in that same area?" Ariel said.
A spokesman for Ramon said that his office was interested in speaking with the settlers.
Peace Now spokesman Yariv Oppenheimer said his activist group, which had long been urging the government to dismantle the outposts, was also looking to meet with Ramon and the committee.