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Israel's Smotrich to declare Nablus outpost 'state-owned land' after riots

Move likely to stoke further tensions in the occupied West Bank following settler mob violence in Palestinian towns
A picture taken from the Palestinian village of Beita south of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, shows Israeli security forces in the settlement outpost of Evyatar nearby, on 3 February 2023 (AFP)

Israel's Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced his intention on Monday to declare an unofficial settlement outpost near Nablus as state-owned land, in a move that is likely to stoke further tensions in the occupied West Bank. 

If implemented, the decision would turn Evyatar outpost - which was established more than two years ago on Palestinian land in Jabal Sabih, south of Beita village - into an official Israeli settlement. 

The announcement by Smotrich, who is also responsible for Israel's civil administration in the West Bank, was seen as an attempt to appease settlers after they violently rampaged through Palestinian towns near Nablus on Sunday.

The riots, which left one Palestinian killed and hundreds injured, came after a suspected Palestinian killed two Israeli settlers in Huwwara earlier in the day.

Vengeful settlers marched through towns near Nablus, burning and attacking Palestinian homes and property for more than five hours. Later that night, hundreds of settlers returned to Evyatar, vowing to resettle on the site.

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Settlers first moved to Jabal Sabih in May 2021 and established the Evyatar outpost.

Following relentless Palestinian protests against the land grab, Israel struck a deal with settler leaders that saw dozens of settlers evacuated from the outpost in July that year, leaving a military presence in the area. 

How Beita became a model of Palestinian resistance against Israel
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The deal also allowed Israeli forces to keep about 50 caravan settler houses that were installed at the time, and said that settlers would "return" to the land when Israeli authorities designate it as "state-owned".

Israel's far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, himself a settler, arrived at the outpost to hold an emergency meeting on Monday with lawmakers from his Religious Zionism alliance, just as Israeli forces were evacuating the settlers.  

Ben-Gvir had earlier addressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a letter, calling on him to uphold the terms of the coalition agreement they struck in November that stated that several outposts would be legalised, including Evyatar.

Ben-Gvir and Netanyahu had also agreed to broaden the so-called Dromi Law - which legalises violent self-defence of property - to include the exemption of theft of arms and weapons from military bases, and to establish a yeshiva religious school for youth in Evyatar.

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