Report: Police advancing toward Amona

Right-wing activists and soldiers clashed sporadically throughout the day Tuesday in Ofra and other parts of the West Bank in the run-up to Wednesday morning's expected demolition of nine empty stone homes illegally constructed in the Amona outpost. It is expected to be the largest protest since the pullout from the Gaza Strip and four northern Samaria communities last summer. The Judea and Samaria Council of Rabbis called on those faithful to the Land of Israel to gather in Amona in throngs to stop the evacuation. Some 2,000 protesters were there by last night. "The Olmert government has declared a war on the Land of Israel and those who are faithful to it," wrote Dov Lior, chief rabbi of Hebron-Kiryat Arba, and Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, of Elon Moreh. In the name of the council, the two added, "It is incumbent upon us to avail ourselves of all means to stop the hunt after Jews and the sale of our holy land. We must join to save the soul of Israel. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda [Kook]'s words that 'there will be a war for Judea and Samaria' still hold true." Settler leaders, who had hoped for a non-violent demonstration, were unable to keep the situation under control. Close to 150 activists blocked the Hawara checkpoint south of Nablus Tuesday night and clashed with troops. They punctured tires of IDF jeeps, broke car windows and cursed the soldiers. Settlers from Beit El also stoned Palestinians from a nearby village. On Tuesday night, police arrested two residents of Psagot, after finding IDF uniforms, night-vision goggles, nails and barbed-wire cutters in their car. Police believe they were on their way to Amona. At Amona, activists turned their wrath on the media. They punctured the tires of a Channel 10 news van and threw red paint on its windows. They cut the wires of equipment belonging to Channel 2, thereby preventing it from broadcasting. The Channel 2 crew said the activists also physically pushed them as they headed to their van. Hundreds of young men gathered around the van, temporarily preventing it from leaving. When chastised by Emily Amrusi, a spokeswoman for the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, a number of young men looked puzzled that she was upset by their actions. "They were saying bad things about us," one of the young men said before disappearing into the night. "It's been hard," said Amrusi, who had helped organize the arrival of the activists. Not all those who came are known to the adults in charge, that includes teachers and rabbis, and there are many different ideas as to what constitutes violence, she said. Amona spokesman Ariel Kahana said he was hopeful the day's violent outbreaks were one-time events and not indicative of the determined but non-violent resistance he hoped the activists would mount Wednesday, when 6,000 soldiers and policemen were expected to arrive. Senior officers said Tuesday that they were preparing for extreme violence, including the possibility settlers would open fire on security forces. "That's crazy, there's no chance of that," retorted Kahana. But one officer said, "We need to be ready for every scenario." Senior officers, however, said the basic assumption was that the settlers would resist similarly to the way Gaza Strip settlers did this past summer. And that the violent resistance was more likely to "include fistfights, stones and bottles of paint." Wearing protective body gear and helmets, and armed with tear gas and pepper spray, the security forces began making their way toward Amona late Tuesday night and the evacuation was scheduled to begin at first light Wednesday. Close to 1,000 members of the Border Police's elite Yasam unit were deployed, together with police water cannon and mounted units, to quell the expected violence. On Tuesday morning, in an outpouring of anger, close to 300 right-wing activists broke into an IDF outpost, manned by the Duhifat battalion, near Ofra and sabotaged heavy machinery parked there in preparation for the demolitions. The army stressed that Duhifat was not scheduled to participate in the evacuation and was in charge of protecting Ofra and the overall security of the area. An Ofra security officer was lightly injured as he pushed the activists out of the military outpost. By nightfall, the army set up roadblocks throughout the area and blocked Route 60 south of Ofra to prevent activists from reaching Amona. But throughout the day, activists traveled easily and freely into the area. Many hitchhiked and walked the last part of the way. Activists flooded the outpost, which is home to 35 families who live in caravans. Classes were organized for the teens, who spent the day there. Some crowded into homes and others studied and listened to lectures in the synagogue. In an atmosphere that looked more like a summer camp than the advent of a violent outbreak, teens hung out on the grass next to their knapsacks and sleeping bags, talking and resting. But signs of the impending battle could be seen around the nine homes, which, except for a wooden house and a children's playroom, marked the first permanent construction in the 10-year old outpost. Teens had rigged the top of the homes with barbed wire, boards and tires. In attempt to block the dirt road leading to the homes, teens used piles of bricks from the construction site and rocks from the hilltop to construct two parallel mounds that looked almost like mini-walls. For quick results, they made an assembly line, passing bricks down the length of the road. By one of the homes, someone lit a trash can on fire. One leader went on the loudspeaker to give teens instructions for the next day. Different groups were assigned spaces either on the rooftops or inside the homes. Last week, in hopes of averting the destruction of the homes, the Amona residents had cemented the doorways. But teens were able to climb into the buildings through the windows. Activist leaders asked groups of teens to also gather in the homes themselves. "This is where the battle will be," one said, as he urged the teens to remember that the objective was not to turn violent. "Do not harm the soldiers," he called out. "They are trying to show that we are criminals, show them that we are not by acting responsibly." Ya'acov, 18, from Jerusalem, said that when the soldiers arrived to drag him out of the home, he planned to drop on the ground. "I'll make like a sack of potatoes," he said. He has a democratic right, he said, to protest an act that he disagrees with. He said that as someone who respects the army and was hoping to join it next year, he had no interest in harming the soldiers whom he also believed were victims of misguided policies. "These people are still our brothers," he said. His friend Yoel, also 18, said he and his friends planned to pray and sing "Hatikva" when the soldiers arrive. Matthew Wagner contributed to this report.