Israeli settler groups have set up 11 new outposts in the occupied West Bank, in a direct rebuttal of mounting US calls to freeze settlement activity.
Young Jewish groups are reported to have set up the structures – mostly tents and huts on hilltops – in the West Bank over Monday night, in a move timed as a precursor to the meeting between the US special envoy, George Mitchell, and Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu today. On Monday, hundreds of settlers set up an outpost near the Palestinian village of Tulkarem, reportedly without intervention from the Israeli army.
Settler groups said they were mimicking the fabled activities of 1946, when the area was ruled by British mandate and 11 Jewish outposts were defiantly erected in the Negev desert during one night.
The mostly young Israelis are associated with settler organisations such as Youth for Israel, a militant group set up in response to Israel's evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005.
According to the Jerusalem Post, settlers were canvassing support and distributing flyers over the weekend at existing settlements in the West Bank – which, like the outposts, are illegal under international law.
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One flyer read: "The nations of the world do not want us here and we are responding by strengthening the connection to the land and by establishing new communities."
Haaretz newspaper reported that 40 teenage girls spent three days in an established West Bank outpost in "spiritual preparation" for the "relentless battle on the right to settle the Land of Israel".
One 16-year-old girl from Tel Aviv told the paper: "I don't know if I personally would live in an outpost but it contributes to the entire people of Israel that the land is being settled."
Today, the Israeli army chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, said he had not received orders to prepare for the evacuation of outposts in the West Bank.
Netanyahu and Mitchell said they had made progress in their meeting in Jerusalem to discuss the settlements issue, but reported no firm development.