A huge banner denounced Ehud Olmert, Israel's interim prime minister, as "bad for the Jews" after the razing of nine settler buildings on 1 February triggered the worst violence between settlers and Israeli troops since a Gaza pullout last year.

 

Israeli news media said at least 30,000 protesters filled downtown Jerusalem's Zion Square, in one of the largest protests by Israeli rightists since the Gaza withdrawal in September.

 

Settler officials said the protesters numbered 100,000. Police would not give a figure.

 

In the protests last Wednesday, baton-wielding police on horseback confronted protesters trying to obstruct bulldozers from razing the buildings.

 

Officials of the settlers' Yesha Council said protesters demanded an official inquiry into complaints of police brutality during the demolitions at the Amona Outpost in which 160 settlers and police were injured.

 

Excessive force

Police have opened an internal inquiry into the events at Amona, where they said they had faced the worst violence ever by fellow Israelis. They have rejected charges that they used excessive force.

 

The demolitions have galvanised the settlers who fear a repeat of Israel's removal of Jewish settlements in Gaza in summer, a unilateral move that was popular with most Israelis.

 

Israeli television said some demonstrators on Sunday criticised their own settler leaders, calling them "Judenraat", the German language term for Jews accused of cooperating with the Nazis during the World War II slayings of six million Jews.

 

Opinion polls show Olmert's centrist Kadima party winning a 28 March national election on a platform of seeking further peace moves and possible pullbacks from occupied land.

 

About 240,000 settlers and 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, land Israel captured in a 1967 Middle East War.

 

Israel has said it would seek to keep several large settlement blocs under any peace deal, but may remove some of the more isolated enclaves. Settlers say all the West Bank is a biblical birthright.

 

Palestinians view the settlements built on land they seek for a state as an obstacle to peace. The World Court has said the settlements are illegal, but Israel has disputed this.