The Israeli military on Monday ordered a group of settlers to evacuate a contested house in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, less than a week after they moved into the property.
The order, which gives the settlers until 1200 GMT on April 3 to evacuate the building of their own free will, said the decision was based on “considerations of public order.”
However, a senior government official told AFP that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had written a letter to Defence Minister Ehud Barak asking that the settlers be given “a supplementary postponement to comply with this decision.”
Last week, dozens of Israeli settlers moved into the second floor of the building, which they dubbed Beit Machpelah, in an overnight operation on March 28.
They said the property had been legally purchased, but relatives of the Palestinian owners, who live on the first floor, dispute the claim.
Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Civil Administration which manages all civilian affairs in parts of the West Bank under full Israeli military and security control, said all such purchases need official approval — which they did not obtain.
A closed military zone was put in place around the house, which is near the contested religious site known as the Cave of the Patriarchs (or the Machpelah Cave) to Jews and the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslims.
David Wilder, spokesman for the Israeli settler community in Hebron, slammed the evacuation order as a “political decision.”
Zeev Elkin and Arieh Eladad, two ultra-nationalist MPs, called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “immediately cancel the outrageous evacuation order that was issued against the House of the Patriarchs in Hebron.”
Hebron is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, home to some 170,000 Palestinian residents, but also a core of around 600 Israeli hardcore settlers who live in the heart of the city protected by a large Israeli military presence.
The Old City has become a flashpoint for confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians.
In 1994, a settler from the nearby Kiryat Arba settlement gunned down 29 Palestinians as they prayed at the contested Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of the Patriarchs site.