A Palestinian family and several left-wing activists were evacuated late Wednesday night from an abandoned Hebron house they had tried to take over.
Before security forces evacuated the infiltrators, settlers arrived at the scene and called out to the Palestinians and activists. However, police were able to keep the two groups separate.
More than a dozen people were evacuated from the building.
According to Ynet, the house, which is near the checkpoint in the city, stands empty due to its strategic location. The importance of maintaining the building’s neutrality was highlighted Wednesday on the heels of the eviction of settlers from a contested Hebron property earlier in the day.
In a surprise move that prompted indignation on the political right, security forces evacuated 15 settlers from Beit Hamachpela.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had indicated on Tuesday that the eviction of the settlers had been put on hold, but later backed the decision to carry it out on Wednesday.
Yehuda Weinstein, the attorney general, advised the prime minister that the eviction should go ahead without delay. Relating to assertions that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had circumvented the government, Weinstein also said there was no need for a government decision on the matter.
Barak also cited operational considerations in carrying out the eviction on Wednesday.
Defense Ministry officials said later Wednesday that the settlers would be allowed to return if it was proved that their purchase of the house was legal.
The settlers were removed from Beit Hamachpela at around 1 p.m. without resistance and without disturbances in about 40 minutes, officials said. Some 150 members of a special police unit surrounded the building and then proceeded with the eviction. Those inside the house — four adults and 11 children under 18 — who said they were making preparations for Passover, claimed that they were treated roughly. Security officials denied this.
There were no arrests at the scene. A small police contingent remained to keep the building cordoned off.
Barak, who authorized the eviction, said the government “will not allow actions that break the law and won’t let citizens create facts on the ground to undermine the foundations of the rule of law.” He said settlers’ claims to ownership of the building would continue to be checked, and that the building would be “preserved” in the interim.
Barak said he hoped there would be no need for future such actions.
Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) accused Barak of “fanning the flames” of tension with the settlers. Ya’alon and Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin had suggested allowing the settlers to leave the house on their own, but Barak decided against it.
Likud Minister Yuli Edelstein said he was “speechless” at the action, and demanded that Barak be stripped of this aspect of his ministerial authority.
Left-wing Meretz leader MK Zehava Gal-On said, “The security forces fulfilled their role in upholding the rule of law.”
The settlers, who moved in last week, have claimed that they purchased the building legally. Military officials said, however, that their entry had not been approved by the defense minister and therefore was not authorized in any case.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had said Tuesday night that the government had mishandled the Hebron affair, saying it could endanger the government coalition.
“In coalition terms we’re talking about a grave mistake,” he said at a Yisrael Beiteinu party function.
Eight Likud ministers had declared support for the settlers in Beit Hamachpela, despite a Civil Administration eviction notice that officially went into effect on Tuesday afternoon. The prime minister instructed Barak to hold off on enforcing the eviction pending an investigation into the settlers’ claim that they had bought the house legally.
The army had been pressing for them to be evacuated from the house, but Netanyahu had said Tuesday that an order to push them out had been delayed.