JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli troops forcibly removed Jewish settlers on Friday from homes in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron that they said they had bought from Palestinians, prompting some right-wing lawmakers to threaten to withhold support for the government.
Ministers and members of parliament from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party decried Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s refusal to sign off on the settlers’ occupancy of the homes in Hebron.
The city of about 220,000 Palestinians has long been a source of tension, fueled by the presence of around 1,000 Jewish settlers who live in the heart of the city, protected by Israeli troops.
A holy site in the center is divided between the faiths. One half is known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs, where the biblical figures Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives are said to be buried. The other, where the Ibrahimi mosque stands, is known to Muslims as the Sanctuary of Abraham.
The settlers said they had bought the properties legally from Palestinian owners, but to live in the apartments they need Defense Ministry approval.
“To take occupancy of the homes, a number of actions are required, and none were carried out, which is why the trespassers were evicted,” Yaalon said in a statement.
A Netanyahu aide, who declined to be named, said that the prime minister backed Yaalon’s move, but added:
“In this case, not all the permits have been obtained. Once this happens, the settlers will be able to return, as has happened in past cases.”
Two right-wing lawmakers from Likud and another from the ultranationalist Jewish Home party said they would boycott parliamentary votes on Monday in protest at the move.
“It is forbidden to evict Jews from their homes and there will be consequences, we demand the prime minister’s involvement in the matter,” said Ayoub Kara, a Druze Arab Likud lawmaker.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said Yaalon’s move was “scandalous,” while Diaspora Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin described it as “wrong.”
The settlers moved into the apartments on Thursday and were evicted on Friday morning. Television footage showed scuffles as the police forced them out. Police said about 80 settlers had been removed without major incident.
The legality of Israeli settlements in occupied territory is a fundamental issue in the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Israel confirmed on Thursday that it was planning to appropriate a large tract of land in the West Bank, drawing condemnation from the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the United States, Israel’s closest ally.