Residents of Israel’s Ulpana settlement outpost in the West Bank began leaving their homes on Tuesday in compliance with a court ruling that their homes are illegal.
But the government later filed a request to the High Court seeking to delay by more than four months removal of the buildings themselves, built on private Palestinian land.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s largely right-wing coalition, which leans heavily on the settler movement for support, has repeatedly sought to stall implementation of the court’s judgement last year that five apartment buildings in the outpost, a neighbourhood of the Beit El settlement, must be dismantled.
The latest deadline for implementation is July 1.
The first stage of evacuation went peacefully on Tuesday, with 15 of the neighbourhood’s 30 families moving their possessions to adjacent temporary homes, with help from defence ministry workers.
“The rest of the families will join them by the end of the week,” a defence ministry statement said.
On Tuesday evening the government asked the court to allow the vacated buildings to remain until they could be physically moved to another site, rather than be demolished where they stood.
“The honourable court is asked to extend the date for the removal of the buildings… until November 15, 2012,” court papers seen by AFP said.
No date was set for a hearing.
An agreement reached between the settlers and the government last week promised a peaceful evacuation in return for Israel constructing 300 new homes in Beit El.
But residents still expressed resentment about the move.
“I am not being evacuated, I’m being expelled from my home,” resident Amir Israeli told AFP as he moved out on Tuesday.
Despite the discontent, there were no confrontations or disruption, and no soldiers or police were at the site during the evacuation.
After dark, local media said, young activists tried to occupy the vacated buildings but were persuaded to leave by neighbours.
On Thursday, the remaining 18 families are to make the move, most of them to the temporary neighbourhood but a few to rented homes elsewhere in Beit El and Israel.
Earlier this month Netanyahu blocked the passing of a law that would have prevented the demolition of the Ulpana buildings.
But he announced his intention to build 851 new living units in the West Bank, 300 of them within Beit El.
Last week, the state announced its intention to seek a delay but the papers were only submitted late on Tuesday evening.
Israeli law NGO Yesh Din, which represents the Palestinian owners of the Ulpana plots, said that copies of the request were only given to them before it was filed with the High Court.
“The intention to submit this request was reported many days ago in the media, but the notification was only forwarded to the landowners’ attorneys a few minutes before it was submitted to the court, with a demand for an immediate response,” it said in a statement.”
Israel considers settler outposts built without government approval in the West Bank to be illegal, but the international community views all settlements in occupied territory as unlawful, whether approved by the government or not.