Clashes as settlers enter Hebron buildings they claim to own

Purchase said to have occurred several days ago; ‘It will take some time’ to determine what will happen, officials say

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Settlers in Hebron force entry into several properties they claimed to have secretly bought on January 21, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)
Settlers in Hebron force entry into several properties they claimed to have secretly bought on January 21, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

A riot broke out near the Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron on Thursday when a group of Jewish settlers entered several buildings that they claimed to have secretly bought from Palestinians earlier in the week.

The settlers rushed over to the buildings, located in the al-Sahla neighborhood of the flashpoint West Bank city, and proceeded to break in using crowbars, videos from the scene showed. The group also brought clothing and household items into the buildings.

Once inside, they raised the Israeli flag on the roof, according to reports on Palestinian Authority TV.

Palestinian residents of Hebron attempted to rush the buildings and a clash broke out between the Jewish settlers and their Arab neighbors, according to the IDF.

In response, the army employed riot dispersal means, namely tear gas, to break up the conflict, a spokesperson said.

“We are focused on a de-escelation of the current situation,” she said.

In the meantime, however, the settlers were allowed to remain in the buildings, despite Palestinian claims that they were illegally taken over.

According to reports on PA TV, the properties were owned by the al-Za’atari and al-Qadfisha families.

A representative of the Jewish community of Hebron claimed otherwise. “The new homes were purchased from their Arab owners,” Uri Karzen, director of the Jewish community of Hebron, said in a tweet.

It was not immediately clear who owns the buildings and whether or not the settlers will be allowed to remain, especially because the issue involves multiple governmental bodies.

Following the incident, Israeli authorities began investigating whether or not the buildings were legally purchased, a defense official told The Times of Israel. “We are performing a check, but it will take some more time,” the official said.

Police, meanwhile, claimed that the decision would be left up to a judge to decide, while others said the decision has to be made by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

Until a decision is reached, the IDF will work to maintain calm and prevent another bout of violence between the Jewish and Muslim residents of the city, an army spokesperson said.

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich applauded the settlers’ effort. “I praise the pioneering residents of Hebron on their entrance into the House of Rachel and the House of Leah,” he wrote on Twitter, using the names the settlers gave to the buildings, which invoke Jewish biblical matriarchs.

“I call on Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to immediately approve residency in these two homes,” he wrote.

The only shared city in the West Bank, Hebron has for decades seen almost daily friction between its community of several hundred Jewish settlers and its much larger Palestinian population.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs, shared by Jews and Muslims, who both revere it as the final resting place of the Biblical Abraham and his kin, has been a particular source of tension in the city.

Lee Gancman contributed to this report.

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