Netanyahu says settlers should not be removed from disputed Hebron house
Hazem Bader (AFP/Archives)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday night that the approximately 120 settlers who entered a disputed home in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron Tuesday evening, should not be evicted overnight.
On Wednesday morning the army declared the site to be a closed military zone.
The move came amid escalating tensions over the contested ownership of the property, and two weeks after Israeli news site Ynet reported that the Civil Administration had determined that the purchase documents for the property had not been forged.
"Tens of Israelis entered a restricted building adjacent to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and security forces are currently on the spot," an Israeli military spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
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 a Palestinian family in 2012 but are undergoing a legal battle as they had not obtained the necessary permits. The Abu Rajab family has denied that they sold the house to the settlers. The families were said to be squatting in the building and were subsequently evacuated from the building by the defense minister at the time, Ehud Barak, in 2012.
Israeli security forces arrived at the scene Tuesday and blocked anyone else from entering the building.
One of the settlers, Shlomo Levinger, told Ynet about the preparations made by the group: "We really had a very strong desire to bring in all the equipment needed for all the families with blankets, bedding, sheets, clothes and even food. This is the time to make courageous decisions, especially since this is a building that was bought with the amount of money.
"I hope that the defense minister and the prime minister will make the reasonable and reasonable decision in this case," he said.
Left-wing Israeli NGO Peace Now 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.
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.
The settlers' move in Hebron comes with Israeli-Palestinian tensions high over new security measures at a Jerusalem holy site.
Israel removed controversial metal detectors at the Haram al-Sharif compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, on Tuesday, but Palestinians were continuing to boycott the site.
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