HEBRON (AFP) â€” Israel drafted hundreds of police reinforcements to the West Bank town of Hebron in a bid to quell what the press on Monday dubbed the Jewish intifada, sparked by plans to evacuate settlers.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed no tolerance for Jewish families resisting eviction from a market in the flashpoint West Bank town, following two days of clashes between hundreds of militant settlers and security forces.
Dozens of police searched houses in the Jewish quarter, preventing residents from returning to their homes, and taking up position on rooftops and outside front doors. A police calvary unit and a water cannon were also on standby.
“We decided to demonstrate our toughness and the police presence will be permanent in order to counter the troubles,” said Hebron officer Avi Harroch.
A furious Noam Arnon, a spokesman for the local Jewish community, accused police of violating the law for not first showing a search warrant.
“We expect police to respect the law. There is no search warrant,” he said.
The unrest is one of the first major challenges facing Olmert, with Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot Aharonot, decrying the “Jewish intifada in Hebron,” in reference to the five-year-old Palestinian uprising.
Olmert, elected interim leader of the centrist Kadima Party in place of the stricken Ariel Sharon who is still in a coma following a massive stroke, said there would be no forgiveness and tolerance for hardline settlers.
“This incident revolves around a particularly violent group,” Kadima spokeswoman Maya Jacobs quoted Olmert as telling party members, saying he had ordered the security forces to act decisively towards the rioters.
“Whoever raises his hand against the security forces will not be forgiven,” he said. “There is no justification for this and it will not be tolerated.”
Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz has reiterated his determination to remove nine Jewish families squatting illegally in a Palestinian fruit and vegetable market in the city, vowing that the authorities will not be intimidated by violence.
“Police and army numbers in Hebron have been reinforced and have been ordered to act firmly,” said a ministry statement. The settler families â€” around 50 people â€” have taken over some of the stalls and neighbouring buildings of the closed market. Hundreds of hardline settlers hurled eggs and stones at security forces for two days running on Saturday and Sunday.
“On Sunday I ordered an extra 250 police to deploy to Hebron. We want to apply the law by arresting those responsible for the disturbances so they can be put on trial,” Moshe Karady, Israel’s police chief, told public radio. Local police commander Shlomo Ephrati said part of the area could be declared a closed military zone, adding that 22 “outlaws” were arrested Sunday. A definite date for the eviction would be determined by a court, he added.
The defence ministry has ordered an investigation to assess the cost of the damage incurred by Palestinian shopkeepers in Hebron during acts of vandalism carried out by Jewish settlers with a view to compensating them.
“This is a Jewish intifada. The army realises the moment of truth is approaching: If the deterioration is not curbed now… this new reality will only exacerbate and lead to depths that no one wants to reach,” said Yediot.
Settlers moved into the market after Palestinian gunmen killed a baby girl in 2001, arguing that Jews had the property before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.