Middle East

Israeli court rejects deal on settlers' Migron outpost

Jewish settler rides horse in Migron settlement - 8 February
Image caption Settlers at Migron described the ruling as harsh

Israel's top court has rejected a deal between the government and Jewish settlers to delay evacuation of an illegal West Bank outpost until 2015.

The Supreme Court had earlier ruled that the post must be demolished by the end of the month, because it was built on privately-owned Palestinian land.

But the government appealed for the demolition to be postponed for three-and-a-half years.

The delay was to allow settlers to rebuild their homes at another site.

The court has extended the evacuation deadline until August.

Migron, north of Jerusalem and home to 280 settlers, is one of the largest unauthorised West Bank settlements.

'Moment of truth'

A panel of three judges made the decision unanimously.

In the court's ruling, quoted byHaaretz newspaper, Justice Mirian Naor described the government-proposed postponement as "unreasonable".

"All are subject to the law and the moment of truth has arrived," she said.

"The desire to take the distress of the residents into account, one which we do not take lightly, cannot continue to come at the expense of the appellants and at the expense of the enforcement of the rule of law."

Michael Sfard, a lawyer representing the Palestinian owners of the land, welcomed the ruling.

"I hope that the government and the settlers will not try to pull any tricks and will not try to circumvent this important decision, and that the residents of Migron will evacuate the illegal outpost peacefully, so that the land will be returned after a decade to its legal owners, my clients," he said, quoted by the Associated Press news agency.

But settlers' spokesman Itai Chemo described the ruling as "harsh" and based on false property claims.

"[Its] objective is the expulsion of peace-loving people," he said.

Under the deal, settlers were to be moved to a nearby hill and the current site would have been put under Israeli military control.

About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

These settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

About 4,000 of them live in several dozen hill-top outposts on the West Bank erected without formal government approval since the late 1990s.

The outposts are illegal under Israeli law and Israel agreed to remove them under the 2003 Roadmap peace plan.