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Palestinian family asks Israel court to evict settlers from disputed Hebron home

Des soldats israéliens près de la "maison d'Abou Rajab", dans la vieille ville de Hébron, le 4 novembre 2013
Hazem Bader (AFP/Archives)
Settlers claim they purchased the building; family members say the man had no right to sell it

A Palestinian family on Tuesday petitioned Israel's High Court of Justice to demand the evacuation of settlers from a building in Hebron.

The settlers claimed that they bought the building from a member of the Abu Rajab family, but other family members said that the man had no right to sell the house. In late July, approximately 120 settlers entered the disputed building, where they have remained with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructing Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman that they should not be evicted.

The army has declared the site to be a closed military zone, but settlers are reportedly entering and leaving without being stopped.

Tensions escalated over the contested ownership of the property after the Civil Administration determined that the purchase documents for the property had not been forged.

Abu Rajab family members argued to the court that the state, “Violated its legally mandated obligation to maintain the public dignity of the place as the occupier in a belligerent occupation the behavior of the respondents during the settlers’ invasion of the property amounts to a serious failure and the inability to enforce [the law] effectively,” the Haaretz daily reports.

Palestinian residents said settlers had raised an Israeli flag on the roof of the building they had occupied, known to Israelis as the "Machpela house."

Settlers claim that they purchased the property from the Palestinian family in 2012 but are undergoing a legal battle as they had not obtained the necessary permits, and were evicted under the auspices of then-Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Left-wing Israeli NGO Peace Now has called on authorities to evacuate the building, saying 15 families had entered the building.

"After their claims of ownership had been denied, the settlers have decided to take the law into their own hands and establish an illegal settlement that might ignite the region," Peace Now said in a statement.

Haaretz reports that government officials are negotiating with the settlers to try to arrange a possible voluntary evacuation of the building.

There is constant friction between Hebron's 200,000 Palestinian residents and several hundred Israeli settlers who live in the heart of the city under heavy military guard.

The city's a topic of controversy in the Israel-Palestinian conflict as it is home to ancient sites such as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the resting place of biblical figures Jacob, Isaac and Abraham and an important religious site to Muslims and Jews alike.

Earlier this month, the UN cultural agency UNESCO declared the Old City of Hebron to be Palestinian territory and an endangered world heritage site, eliciting outrage from Israel.

Following the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced the decision as "another delusional decision" by the organization.

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