Israeli settlers attempt to take control of Palestinian house in Hebron

21:00 Jul 25 2017 Hebron (near Ibrahimi Mosque)

HEBRON (Ma'an) -- JULY 25, 2017 9:48 P.M. (UPDATED: JULY 26, 2017 8:08 P.M.)
Dozens of Israeli settlers raided a Palestinian house near the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron city of the southern occupied West Bank on Tuesday evening in an attempt to take control of the building, residents told Ma’an.

Residents of the Abu Rajab house have been embroiled in a legal battle with Israeli settlers for years, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his intention to encourage the establishment of a new illegal Israeli settlement there to be named Beit Hamachpela.

However, Israeli authorities have not granted permission to establish the settlement on the grounds that the settlers have failed to prove their alleged purchase of the Palestinian house, as the Palestinians have accused the settlers of forging the documents.

Hazem Abu Rajab al-Tamimi, a resident of the house, said that more than 50 settlers raided the house and that Israeli soldiers were assisting them during the raid.

Al-Tamimi told Ma’an that Israeli soldiers and border guards have been deployed in front of the house for the past 48 hours before eventually allowing settlers to raid it on Tuesday.

In response to a request for comment, an Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that tens of Israelis entered “a restricted building” adjacent to the mosque, but denied that soldiers were present during the settler raid.

She said Israeli forces arrived to the scene after the fact and were currently present in the area, at around 9:30 p.m.

“At the moment there is no decision to remove them,” the spokesperson said, and noted that the situation was developing.

Wednesday morning, the Israeli army told Ma'an that the house was declared a closed military zone, but could not confirm whether or not the settlers have been expelled from the building.

Israeli settlers have claimed that they bought the house from its owners, however, the Palestinian owners sued the Israeli settlers in court and accused them of forging documents in an attempt to steal the house.

The Abu Rajab family home consists of three floors. Al-Tamimi said that the Israeli court decided, due to to ongoing case regarding the house, that no one could enter the second and third floors of the house until a court decision was reached.

The court also decided to keep the house under the “protection” of the Israeli army and the Israeli Civil Administration, he said.

Israeli NGO and settlement watchdog Peace Now released a statement corroborating that some 15 settler families entered the house without authorization.

“The long legal battle over who owns the property has not yet come to an end but that did not stop the settlers from invading it today,” the statement said.

Peace Now explained that the registration committee of the Israeli Civil Administration denied the settlers’ claims of purchase, which the settlers have appealed were waiting to appear before the committee again.

“Thus far, the settlers were unable to prove ownership, and the Palestinians argue that a purchase has not been made. Moreover, the settlers are claiming only partial ownership of the property. Furthermore, even if eventually the settlers will prove their ownership, this does not represent sufficient cause for the establishment of a new settlement in the heart of the Palestinian city of Hebron,” Peace Now said.

“The establishment of a new settlement in Beit HaMachpela will severely hinder Palestinian freedom of movement and add to the rising tensions in the area,” the statement continued.

"We demand that the government orders the immediate evacuation of the settlers who invaded Beit HaMachpela. After their claims of ownership had been denied, the settlers have decided to take the law into their own hands and establish an illegal settlement that might ignite the region. We call upon the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense to follow the law and the Israeli interest and evacuate the trespassers without delay."

Located in the center of Hebron -- one of the largest cities in the occupied West Bank -- the Old City was divided into Palestinian and Israeli-controlled areas, known as H1 and H2, following the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre.

Some 800 notoriously aggressive Israeli settlers now live under the protection of the Israeli military in the Old City, surrounded by more than 30,000 Palestinians.

Palestinian residents of the Old City face a large Israeli military presence on a daily basis, with at least 20 checkpoints set up at the entrances of many streets, as well as the entrance of the Ibrahimi Mosque itself.
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