The Jewish settlers of the illegal Amona outpost in the occupied West Bank have rejected a proposal to leave voluntarily, defying a court order and raising fears of violence.

A High Court ordered the Amona outpost to be evacuated by December 25 since it was found to have been built on private Palestinian land in a case that has taken on international importance.

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Dozens of Israeli youths streamed into the hilltop outpost of about 40 families in windy and bitterly cold weather in the middle of the night on Thursday, as they feared the army would move in imminently to clear them out.

Many of them, alerted to the decision on social media, crowded into a small synagogue and dozed in sleeping bags on the floor, while others stayed in their cars or simply walked the streets.

After sunrise, some of the youths, wearing knitted Jewish skullcaps with sidelocks dangling, spread nails on roads along with stones and wooden poles.

Several took up position on top of a water tower while waving an Israeli flag. They also hauled an empty dumpster with them for unclear reasons.

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A spokesman for Amona residents, who has lived in the outpost for 14 years, said they had not been given any notice of when an evacuation could happen.

Asked whether he was concerned that the youths' presence at the outpost would lead to violence, he said: "I'm worried about the government inflicting pain on people - needless pain."

"There is no difference between Amona and Tel Aviv," said Eli Greenberg, a 43-year-old father of eight.

"There's no reason to take us out of here," he said as he sat on the front deck of his mobile home near a hillside planted with rows of olive trees.

 Settlements such as Amona are called outposts because Israel has not approved them [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

The dispute over whether to demolish the outpost northeast of Ramallah has taken on international importance because of concern over settlement expansion in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.

Israeli nationalist politicians, settlement advocates, and Amona residents have resisted the move, and the international community is watching closely over whether the court order will be obeyed.

All Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, are illegal under international law, but Israel differentiates between those it has approved and those it has not.

Settlements such as Amona are called outposts because Israel has not approved them.

There are concerns over how any evacuation will play out.    

In 2006, the demolition of nine permanent houses in the outpost led to clashes between settlers and Israeli security forces. 

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Settlements are seen as major stumbling blocks to peace efforts as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.    

But the settlement movement wields significant power in Israeli politics.    

Key members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, seen as the most right-wing in the country's history, openly oppose a Palestinian state and advocate annexing most of the West Bank.

Kalmen Barkin, a 20-year-old from Jerusalem with a long red beard, was among those gathered in the Amona synagogue before dawn.      

He said he did not advocate violence and would passively resist.  

"When they come to take you, grab on to something."

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Source: AFP news agency