Israel evicts settlers from Hebron house

Israeli soldiers stand outside the house in the West Bank city of Hebron, which Jewish settlers have been asked to leave (3 April 2012) The settlers did not obtain military approval to buy the house

Israeli security forces have evicted a group of Jewish settlers who took over a house in the Arab part of the West Bank city of Hebron, officials say.

An Israeli police spokesman said there were no physical confrontations.

The move came despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking Defence Minister Ehud Barak to let them stay while they "make their legal case".

The military authorities ordered the settlers out of the house because they had not received permission to buy it.

The settlers moved into the two-storey building on Thursday night, seeking to expand the settlement of some 500 families in the heart of Hebron, home to 180,000 Palestinians.

They said they purchased the house from its Palestinian owners legally. But the head of the local Palestinian police force disputed the deal's validity, saying the building had more than 50 owners, only one of whom had sold his share to the settlers.

Deadline

On Monday, the Israeli military told the settlers they had until Tuesday afternoon to leave the house or prove it was theirs, after which the authorities would "act to restore the building to its previous state".

"After examining all the evidence that was handed over and after considering all the circumstances of the incident, it was decided to return to the situation which existed before," the military order said.

The settlers did not obtain military approval to buy the house and their takeover constituted a provocation, it added.

But overnight, Mr Netanyahu "asked the defence minister to allow the settlers in the building to have time to make their legal case", officials in the prime minister's office said.

Tuesday's deadline passed without a public response from Mr Barak, and Israeli media reports on Wednesday suggested the settlers would have until 25 April to present proof of ownership of the house.

But Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld later announced that a combined operation by several hundred police officers and soldiers had led to the successful eviction of 15 settlers.

Mr Rosenfeld said there was no physical confrontation between the police officers and the settlers, however, Kiryat Arba council member Benzi Lieberman told the BBC that force was used. No injuries were reported.

Outposts

In a separate development, Mr Netanyahu said he had asked the attorney general to find a way to save the illegal Ulpana settler outpost in the West Bank from being demolished as stipulated by a Supreme Court order.

Mr Netanyahu said he also planned to ask the government to grant formal status to three other illegal outposts - Bruchin, Sansana and Rechelim.

Last year, the Israeli government committed to remove all or part of six outposts, including Ulpana, which is also known as Jabal Artis or Pisgat Yaakov. It is reportedly built entirely on private Palestinian land.

The Israeli anti-settlement group, Peace Now, condemned Mr Netanyahu's announcement, saying he wanted to "to present the settlers with a gift before Passover", the Jewish holiday that begins on Friday.

All settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

The settler outposts are also illegal under Israeli law and Israel agreed to remove them under the 2003 Road Map peace plan.

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