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Israeli Supreme Court delays settler demolition order

Houses in the settlement of Ofra in the West Bank, established in the vicinity of the Palestinian village of Baytin (background), pictured on November 17, 2016
Thomas Coex (AFP/File)
Residents of the Ofra settelement will have until March 5 to leave their homes

Israel's Supreme Court on Sunday gave a small group of settlers in the West Bank a brief respite from a demolition order, giving them until March 5 to leave.

Nine homes in Ofra settlement which were built on private Palestinian land were originally ordered to be razed by February 8, 2017, a 2015 court order said.

Their inhabitants had asked the court for a three-month postponement due to delays in completion of their new homes, according to a transcript of Sunday's ruling, released by the justice ministry.

"Execution of the demolition orders against the nine buildings will be carried out within one month, that is to say by March 5, 2017," the court ruled.

"Although the request for a three-month postponement was rejected we hope that when the time to leave arrives the petitioners will go peacefully as they stated in their request," Chief Justice Miriam Naor said.

On Thursday, Israeli police battled hardliners resisting the court-ordered demolition of the Amona outpost, a wildcat satellite of Ofra, near Ramallah built without official government permits.

Police said that 32 officers were injured during the eviction operation, which began the day before.

Ofra itself, one of the oldest settlements in the West Bank, has a population of around 3,500 people.

It is deep inside the Palestinian territory, and is not part of the blocs of settlements that Israel will seek to retain as part of any future peace agreement with the Palestinians.

More than 370,000 Israeli settlers now live across the West Bank, surrounded by around 2.6 million Palestinians.

Israel's parliament is expected on Monday to give second and third readings to a bill which would retroactively legalize several thousand Israeli settler homes in the West Bank.

The United Nations has ruled that all settlements on occupied territory are illegal, whether or not they are authorized by the Israeli government.

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 Israel's history, openly oppose a Palestinian state and advocate annexing most of the West Bank.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper said on Sunday that Netanyahu, who on Monday meets British Prime Minister Teresa May, has sought to have voting on the legalization bill postponed but the bill's main backer, hard-line Education Minister Naftali Bennett, refused.

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