Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to establish the first new West Bank settlement in more than two decades “as soon as possible”, promising to make up for the demolition of an illegal settler outpost.
Mr Netanyahu’s announcement was his latest step to expand Israeli settlement construction in the wake of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Mr Trump has signalled a far softer line toward the settlements, which are considered illegal by most of the international community.
Mr Netanyahu made the comments just as Israeli security forces were completing the evacuation of Amona, where they broke into a synagogue earlier on Thursday to remove 200 protesters who had barricaded themselves inside.
The pro-settler government of Mr Netanyahu had unsuccessfully tried to block the evacuation of Amona.
Israel’s Supreme Court rejected all appeals after determining the outpost was built illegally two decades ago on private Palestinian land.
Speaking at a ceremony in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, Mr Netanyahu expressed “great pain” over the removal ofAmona.
“We all understand the depth of the pain and therefore we will establish a new settlement on state land,” he said.
“Already yesterday I formed a team that will determine the settlement location and get everything ready. We will act so that it happens as soon as possible.”
According to the Israeli anti-settlement watchdog Peace Now, Israel has not officially broken ground on a new settlement since 1992.
Since that time, however, it has greatly expanded its existing settlements and allowed dozens of unauthorised outposts to sprout up, in some case subsequently legalising them.
In all, some 400,000 Israelis now live in West Bank settlements, in addition to 200,000 others living in east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians claim both areas, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as parts of a future independent state.
The international community has opposed the settlements, built on occupied lands sought by the Palestinians, as obstacles to peace.
On Thursday, Israeli police completed the evacuation of the wind-swept Amona community, where hundreds of Jewish activists joined residents in resisting the pullout.
Police began the evacuation on Wednesday but about 200 activists remained holed up in the synagogue.
On Thursday, several hundred Israeli forces surrounded the building and officers wearing goggles and wielding plastic shields broke through the doors and sprayed water to push back defiant protesters.
“The officers faced especially tough and violent resistance,” police said in a statement. Protesters sprayed fire extinguishers at police and threw rocks, paint bottles and wooden planks, police said.