Several Israeli families have begun leaving the occupied West Bank settlement outpost of Migron, as a court deadline for their evacuation looms.
A handful of mostly women and children were seen leaving their homes early on Sunday, although none appeared to be taking their luggage with them, the AFP news agency reported.
Graffiti and signs on their homes sounded defiant tones. “Migron, we shall return” and “We will never forget Zionism”, slogans read.
The Israeli military said implementation of the court order was under way.
“Several families began leaving Migron voluntarily during the night,” a spokesperson said. “The evacuation process has begun.”
‘Victory’ for law
The largest and oldest settlement outpost in the occupied West Bank unauthorised by Israeli authorities, Migron was built on private Palestinian land.
In August 2011 Israel’s Supreme Court ordered that it be cleared.
The evacuation has been repeatedly delayed in the face of fierce settler opposition, but last week the court said the 50 or so families resident in the outpost had to be out by the end of Tuesday.
Early on Sunday, officials began distributing the evacuation orders to the families, with scores of police officers on hand to prevent unrest.
In anticipation of police attempts to forcibly move the families, around 20 young settler activists, who do not live in Migron, took over a caravan at the site and were preparing to barricade themselves in, while others could be seen
on the roof.
Some of the families placed signs on their cars saying: “Please don’t take photos”, in a vain attempt to dissuade the herd of press photographers on hand to cover their departure.
Last week, the Supreme Court said Migron must be cleared of all residents by September 4 and all the buildings removed by September 11, after rejecting an appeal by 17 of the families that they had legally purchased the land where their homes stood.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now welcomed the ruling as a “victory for the state of law”, but the settlers described it as a “brutal rape”.
Israel officially forbids the dozens of settlement outposts built without government approval and often sends security personnel to demolish newer encampments. They often consist of little more than a few hilltop trailers.
The international community considers all settlements built in the occupied West Bank – including annexed Arab East Jerusalem – to be illegal.
Settlers had sought a delay in moving out, saying temporary homes for them elsewhere in the West Bank were not ready. Others maintained they had indeed purchased the land in question.