JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli forces on Friday evicted dozens of Jewish settlers from two buildings they moved into the day before in the heart of the flashpoint city of Hebron, near an important shrine holy to both Jews and Muslims in the West Bank.
The troops removed 80 people who had moved into the empty buildings and then closed access to the sites, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. The buildings will remain shut until the courts determine who owns them, he said.
Supporters of the group said the settlers had entered houses that were bought legally. Selling property to Israelis is considered taboo in Palestinian society and is against Palestinian law. Some sellers have been killed by Palestinian gunmen. Those Palestinians that do sell fear for their lives and usually flee the territory. Real estate deals are often conducted confidentially to protect the sellers.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group, said the Palestinian owners are denying any purchase and are going to file legal documents to prove it. "Previous experience shows that some of these alleged deals are either forged, or only partial and then proven false," she said.
Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war. Palestinians demand the territory as part of their future state. Most of the international community views Israeli settlements in the territory as illegal or illegitimate.
Israel says the fate of the settlements should be resolved in peace talks, along with other core issues like security and borders.
About 850 Israeli settlers in Hebron live in heavily-guarded enclaves, surrounded by tens of thousands of Palestinians. Much of the animosity in the biblical city is over a sensitive holy site known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque.
Friday's eviction came as Israel is struggling to deal with months of near-daily Palestinian attacks on civilians and soldiers. Many Palestinian attackers over the past four months of bloodshed have been from Hebron.
Palestinian attackers have killed 25 Israelis and wounded dozens more since mid-September in stabbings, shootings and vehicular assaults. Some 146 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during that time, and over a hundred of them have been identified by Israel as attackers. The rest were killed in clashes with Israeli troops.
Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said, "Israel is a nation of law and we have no intention of compromise when the law is broken. In the case of the houses in Hebron, the law was crudely breached. A series of legal actions need to be taken to enter the house, none of which were conducted. Therefore the invaders were evacuated."
Yaalon called on officials to "act responsibly and restrain their expressions" and support the rule of law.
The eviction angered some parliamentarians on the right and some said the move threatens Netanyahu's narrow government. Media reported that three parliamentarians were threatening to boycott Knesset votes until those evicted were allowed back in.
Yariv Levin, a minister from Netanyahu's ruling Likud party, was among several lawmakers who condemned it. "A decision of this kind naturally has implications on the stability of the coalition," he said.
Zeev Elkin, another Likud lawmaker, said in a Twitter post that "This is the time to fight terror and strengthen and support the settlements, and not to fight the settlers."
Elkin called on Yaalon, the defense minister, to overturn the eviction order.