May 7, 2006

Israeli police evict settlers from Hebron house

By Jonathan Saul

HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli police stormed a
Palestinian house in the West Bank city of Hebron on Sunday to
evict Jewish settlers accused of squatting there in an early
test for the new government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Olmert plans to evacuate dozens of isolated settlements in
the occupied West Bank and impose final borders by 2010 in the
absence of peace talks with the Palestinians, although he has
not said what he would do with Hebron.

Police coaxed out most of the two dozen settlers, some
weeping, after using an electric saw and a sledgehammer to
break through a door into the three-storey house near the
heavily fortified Jewish settlement in the biblical city.

A few remained holed up inside, barricaded in one room and
resisting a Supreme Court order to leave.

"We have not encountered any extreme incidents. We are
working our way from door to door," said police spokesman
Mickey Rosenfeld.

Police earlier scuffled with scores of settlers' supporters
outside the house, police and witnesses said. A dozen settlers
were arrested and 13 policemen were injured, after settlers
threw Molotov cocktails from the roof of the house, police

"This is crossing a red line," Aliz Amir, the Israeli
police chief in Hebron, told Army Radio, referring to the fire

The settlers moved into the house last month, saying it had
been bought from its Palestinian owners legally. Palestinians
denied this.

Israel's Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the settlers to
be evicted pending a ruling on ownership of the house.

"Palestinians will receive much strength today. There is no
justice and no righteousness in this corrupt state," said
Tzippora Schlissel, 40, after she left the house.

Palestinians regard Jewish settlements as a hated symbol of

In separate violence, Palestinian fire department officials
said settlers set fire to three Palestinian cars in Hebron
during the night.

The prime minister, whose government took office on
Thursday, has said Israel will remove isolated settlements from
swathes of the West Bank while strengthening major blocs.
Jewish settlers claim a biblical right to the territory.

Palestinians say that under Olmert's plan, Israel would
annex land and deny them the viable state they want in the West
Bank and Gaza Strip.

The World Court has branded all Israeli settlements built
on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal. Israel
disputes this.

Olmert has not said what he plans for the some 400 settlers
who live among 130,000 Palestinians in volatile Hebron, a
frequent flashpoint in the Middle East conflict.

Hebron is holy to both Jews and Muslims as the burial place
of biblical patriarchs.

His proposals for the West Bank would see around 60,000
Jewish settlers removed from isolated enclaves as part of
Israel's efforts to reduce conflict with the Palestinians and
maintain a Jewish majority. About 240,000 settlers live in the
West Bank among 2.4 million Palestinians.

Some settler leaders have predicted violence should the
plans go ahead.

Around 200 protesters and police were injured in clashes
when Israel dismantled part of an unauthorized settler outpost
in the West Bank in February. Police described it as the
fiercest violence they have ever faced from Israeli Jews.

Israel evacuated 9,000 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip
and a remote northern part of the West Bank last year.

(Additional reporting by Haitham Tamimi in Hebron and Dan
Williams in Jerusalem)