Teenagers take to the sea to slow evacuation of beach settlement

Twenty youngsters, some in a dinghy and others armed only with whistles and lifejackets, dashed into the sea after hundreds of police and soldiers descended on the ultra-nationalist settlement.

The handful of tents and bungalows along a narrow strip of land bordering the sea was always going to be indefensible. "We don't want to escape," said Moshe Kolker, 17, from Jerusalem as he prepared to enter the water. "We just want [the evacuation] to take longer and go out with honour."

The Israeli army appeared to have anticipated their move, and a navy ship with smaller craft waited further out at sea. The main resistance at Shirat Hayam - established in 2000 with only a dozen families - came from 60 largely Orthodox Jewish youngsters attracted by a mixture of ideology and the prospect of a summer spent living in tents on the beach.

Yesterday the youngsters were full of nervous energy. They had twisted wire spikes intended to puncture tyres, and set up barriers on the road leading to the settlement gates which they filled with any inflammable material they could find.

A gang of them mobbed the army's guard tower at the entrance to the tent settlement and forced the three armed soldiers posted there to leave.

But in the end, the home-made defences were barely noticed by the mass of troops who rapidly extinguished the fires, entered the settlement and began removing near hysterical protesters.

It took them only about four hours to evacuate everyone in Shirat Hayam, with the exception of a group of youths on the roof of one building, and the teenage boys still floating in the sea.

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