Border Police forces evacuated several dozen Jewish settlers from two houses in Hebron Friday morning, a day after the settlers entered the buildings, claiming they had bought them from Palestinians.
Security officials said the decision to clear them was made by the Defense Ministry and that the evacuation was completed without incident.
The military has now forbidden entry into the buildings, and guards have been posted outside to prevent anyone from going in.
Security forces had gathered in large numbers in the area, out of apparent concern that the evacuation would encounter resistance and spark Jewish rioting.
The settlers said in a statement to Channel 2 news that the decision by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to evacuate them was regrettable. They urged him to “come and see the veracity of the documents and join us in celebrating the Land of Israel.”
The settlers’ entry into the homes near the Tomb of the Patriarchs prompted Palestinian rioting on Thursday.
Settlers claimed the homes were secretly bought from the Palestinian owners, while Palestinians said they were illegally taken over.
The settlers had rushed over to the buildings, located in the al-Sahla neighborhood of the flashpoint West Bank city, and proceeded to break in using crowbars — as seen in videos from the scene. 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 storm the buildings and a clash broke out between the Jewish settlers and their Arab neighbors, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
In response, the army employed riot dispersal means, namely tear gas, to break up the conflict, a spokesperson said.
According to reports on PA TV, the properties were owned by the al-Za’atari and al-Qadfisha families.
— Uri Karzen אורי קרזן (@UriKarzen) January 21, 2016
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.