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Israel fights widespread settler violence after forcible eviction
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09:28, December 05, 2008

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Israeli security forces on Thursday evacuated Jewish inhabitants from a disputed building in the West Bank city of Hebron in a swift operation followed by widespread settler violence.

Some 600 Israeli soldiers and police officers stormed the four-storey building in the afternoon, and forcibly vacated the house under a rain of rocks and eggs hurled by the some 250 settlers who had barricaded themselves inside.

While some inhabitants walked out of the house by themselves, many were dragged out or carried out by their evictors, and some grappled with security personnel after they were forced out of the structure.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokeswoman Avital Leibovitz was quoted by local daily Ha'aretz as saying that it took about 20 minutes to complete the process, during which Israel's rescue service reported that 25 people from both sides were injured.

The operation at the building, whose ownership is contested between its Palestinian owner and Jewish purchaser, marks the most eye-catching West Bank evacuation since the 2006 removal of the outpost of Amona, which triggered a massive confrontation between settlers and security forces and resulted in hundreds of injuries.

Apparently in revenge for the expulsion, radical settlers went on a rampage across the Palestinian city, opening fire on Palestinians and setting fire to their houses and cars, Ha'aretz reported, adding that at least 17 Palestinians have been wounded, including five from bullets.

In front of the disputed building, which Israel's Supreme Court ordered the occupants to vacate three weeks ago, some settlers were still scuffling with Israeli forces after nightfall, said the report, adding that the house will be guarded by the IDF till its dispute is solved.

In light of the violence, former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei demanded that the United Nations Security Council intervene in the situation in Hebron "in order to stop the rioting of the settlers' gangs against the Palestinians," local news service Ynet reported.

The IDF has declared the whole Hebron area a closed military zone in a bid to prevent other settlers from entering the already volatile city, where security forces used stun grenades and tear gas to tame the rioting settlers.

In other parts of the West Bank, where some 300,000 settlers live in over 100 settlements, right-wing radicals threw rocks at Palestinian vehicles and burned an olive grove, the report quoted local residents as saying.

A group of right-wing activists also blocked a main road to Jerusalem for a while before police made several arrests and dispersed them, according to the report.

As radical settlers were trying to stick a so-called "price tag" to the evacuation, Israeli leaders vowed to restore law and order. While voicing his support for the evacuation, President Shimon Peres was quoted by Ynet as saying that the government must sometimes take harsh steps to protect its law and security.

For his part, caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated that the government will not allow anything to hinder the rule of law. "Any attempt made by violent elements, trying to instigate violence against the Palestinian population, will be met with a harsh and immediate response," he was quoted as saying.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni also stressed that the eviction was necessary and that a responsible government must enforce the law.


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