Israel police block Palestinians from reoccupying protest camp

E1, West Bank Tue Jan 15, 2013 4:22pm GMT

E1, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli police, using stun grenades, blocked about 50 Palestinian activists who tried on Tuesday to reoccupy tents they pitched last week on a patch of West Bank land which Israel wants for Jewish settlements.

Israel has drawn strong international criticism over plans to build settler homes in the area, known as "E1", which connects the two parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank outside Arab suburbs of East Jerusalem.

On Sunday, hundreds of police officers evicted the protesters, who had claimed the area in the name of a future Palestinian state. The large, steel-framed tents remained standing at the site pending the outcome of Israeli Supreme Court hearings on Israel's intention to remove them.

Protesters who tried to return to the tents on Tuesday were confronted by police officers who told them the site had been designated off-limits by the army.

One activist wore a white bridal gown and their cars were decked out in bright ribbons, making the protest look like a traditional Palestinian wedding.

"The protesters continued to make their way up. Police pushed the protesters back down the hill," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. "Two stun grenades were used to disperse the protesters and prevent attempts to climb back up."

Twenty Palestinians were detained for questioning, he said.

For years Israel froze building in E1, which houses only a police headquarters, after coming under pressure from former U.S. President George W. Bush to keep the plans on hold.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans late last year to expand settlements after the Palestinians won de-facto statehood recognition at the United Nations General Assembly in November.

Many countries view Jewish settlement building in areas captured by Israel in a 1967 war as illegal and echo Palestinians concern such construction could deny them a viable and contiguous state.

E1 covers some 4.6 sq miles (12 sq km) and is seen as particularly important because it not only juts into the narrow "waist" of the West Bank, but also backs onto East Jerusalem, where Palestinians want to establish their capital.

About 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2010 over the issue of Israel's continued settlement building.

(Reporting by Reuters TV at E1 and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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