HEBRON (AFP) â€” Dozens of hardline Jewish settlers who had barricaded themselves inside a house in the West Bank city of Hebron were evicted on Sunday after Israeli police and troops stormed the building.
Three families who had been living in the three-storey house for several weeks and around 40 youths who had gathered inside in a show of solidarity were dragged away kicking and screaming after the security cut their way through padlocks on the front door, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
Several dozen other settlers and supporters who had also converged on the scene hurled eggs and paint at the forces and there were also scuffles between the two sides although there were no reports of serious injuries.
Local police commander Israel Itzhak expressed satisfaction at the completion of the operation and praised the local settler community in Hebron for not organising widespread protests to disrupt the work of the security forces.
“We came to enforce the law,” he told reporters. “There was some passive resistance but nothing like we saw in Amona,” he said in reference to a recent evacuation operation which ended in widespread violence.
“I want to thank the people of the Jewish community in Hebron who have enabled us to do our job quietly.” However, the settlers who were forced out on Sunday morning made no attempt to disguise their contempt for the authorities.
“This government is just a bunch of corrupt people who want to prevent us from living in Hebron and instead strengthen our Arab enemies,” Tzipi Schliessel, 40, who had been living inside the building with her five children, told AFP.
Her husband, Rabbi Israel Schliessel, denied that any violence had been used by those inside the house.
“I have not seen any violence directed at police,” he told Israel Radio.
The standoff represented the first confrontation between the settlers and the new Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who is planning to uproot tens of thousands of settlers from the occupied West Bank during his four years in office.
Olmert told the Cabinet since his government took office last Thursday that he would not tolerate acts of violence or lawlessness from the settlers.
“We shall not accept thuggery and attempts to illegally establish facts on the ground,” he told ministers.
Although Olmert has spelled out his intention to cement Israeli control on a number of illegal settlements, he has not committed himself to maintaining a Jewish presence in Hebron â€” unlike his coma-stricken predecessor Ariel Sharon.
Hebron is regarded as a bastion of hardline settlers with around 600 living in a Jewish enclave in the heart of city which is home to around 160,000 Palestinians.
The settlers who had been occupying the house which was evacuated Sunday claimed that they had acquired it legally.
Police believe, however, that the purchase documents are false and that the families living in the building, which had been uninhabited for several years, had no right to be there.
The house is in a Palestinian neighbourhood of the Old City, which lies close to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to Jews and Muslims.
Under a 1997 accord with the Palestinian Authority, Israeli troops evacuated 80 per cent of the city but continue to protect the 600 settlers living around the Tomb of the Patriarchs.