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Israeli security forces dragged Jewish settlers off a West Bank hill on Thursday on the fourth day of protests aimed at preventing the expansion of Palestinian self-rule, witnesses said.

About 400 policemen and soldiers climbed the hill near the Jewish settlement of Beit El to drag away about 200 settlers.The settlers had returned to the hilltop on Wednesday after soldiers evicted them the day before in a sometimes violent confrontation.

Settlers at Beit El were passively resisting the evacuation, and troops dragged them away one by one.

Women soldiers waited for the troops to move all the male settlers before moving in to drag the women away. Many of the squatters were youths.

"If we have these kind of youths, I am starting to be optimistic," said settler leader Elyakim Haetzni, just before soldiers dragged him off.

Settlers, who believe the West Bank was given to the Jews by God and must never be given up, have waged a campaign to enlarge their settlements to thwart the next stage of Palestinian self-rule.