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Israeli settlers in West Bank try to regroup

Written by: Staff

Shilo, West Bank, May 3 :Yisrael Medad proudly shows a visitor around this Israeli settlement perched high on a hill in the heart of the occupied West Bank.

He points out a vineyard in a valley below where the Jewish settlers of Shilo make wine. Other settlers tend nectarine trees while some work in a small factory producing door frames.

As he watches children get off buses from nearby settlements to attend Shilo's school, Medad struggles to comprehend the government's plan to uproot dozens of Jewish enclaves, likely including his own community of 1,500 people.

''It would send a message of total, absolute defeatism,'' said the tall settler leader, a former New Yorker who moved to Shilo in 1981.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert aims to evacuate settlements across large parts of the West Bank while strengthening major blocs if peacemaking with the Palestinians remains frozen.

He has vowed to set Israel's borders by 2010 with or without Palestinian agreement, tracing the frontier along a barrier being built in the West Bank.

Palestinians see settlements as a hated symbol of occupation. They have said Olmert's unilateral ''convergence'' plan would not foster peace and would annex land they want for a state in the West Bank and in Gaza, which Israel quit last year.

Olmert, whose Kadima Party won March elections, has formed a coalition government which is due to be sworn in on Thursday. On paper, the coalition has enough seats to push through his plan for the West Bank.

Settler leaders are trying to shape a strategy to fight Olmert, but they also need to rebuild after their right-wing support base foundered at the elections.

Although there was some confusion about what to do next, some pledged to go door-to-door to hammer home what they see as the threat from rockets fired by Palestinian militants if Israel withdraws from the land settlers see as a biblical birthright.

Any withdrawal could allow militants to get closer to the so-called ''Green Line'' boundary that separated the Jewish state and the West Bank before the 1967 Middle East war.

''We will show people the maps ... The terrorists will be on the mountains and shoot rockets at us,'' said Emily Amrusy, spokeswoman for the settlers' YESHA council.


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