Jewish settlers who took over a house in Hebron's Arab area should be allowed to stay, a top Israel minister said on Tuesday, adding that similar actions, as long as they are done through the proper legal channels, should be encouraged.
The comments, made by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz came amid a debate within Israel's leadership as to the way in which the state should respond to Sunday's takeover.
Hebron’s mayor Khaled Osaily told Israel’s Army Radio that it can be easily proven that the house’s bill of sale was fake. “It’s all fake,” Osaily said, “The person who sold the house to the settlers is not the owner…I am sure of this.”
Osaily further commented on the controversy surrounding the settlement expansion in the city. “Another house will bring peace? This will bring closeness between people? On the contrary, this will only create problems.”
On Monday, the Israel Defense Forces issued an eviction order for the settlers, according to which they had until Tuesday at 3:00 PM to evacuate the house on their own will, after which "the authorities will act to restore the building to its previous state."
However, later in the day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly asked Defense Minister Ehud Barak to postpone the evacuation, with officials in Netanyahu's office saying the premier asked Barak "to allow the settlers to pursue action through legal channels."
The prime minister's office did not say so directly, but Netanyahu's comment to Barak means the delay of the evacuation of the settlers, which was scheduled to take place on Tuesday at 3 P.M.
During a visit by several MKs to the Hebron house on Tuesday, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said he admired the settlers for standing their ground.
"I came here to support the settlers. I think Jews have a right to buy a house anywhere in the world, and I'll do everything to allow them to stay," Katz said, adding that "as long as it is done legally it must be encouraged.
The Likud minister also criticized the Palestinian Authority for what he said were threats against the Palestinian sellers of the house, saying that the "government should demand their release."
"Ehud Barak won't decide the eviction by himself," Katz said, adding that "if anyone would have appealed the legality of the purchase, then that would be a different matter."
"The decision to evict isn’t the Defense Ministry's, but the government's," Katz added.
The security establishment has called the takeover a provocation, and says that the settlers' presence in the house constitutes a public disturbance. However, the move has won the support of some politicians.
The settlers said they purchased the property legally. Their representatives showed records of the deal on Sunday, including money transfers, to Military Advocate General staff.
The house is located in a closed military zone, but Jewish community activists come and go freely through the area.
Netanyahu is scheduled to discuss the status of the Hebron takeover during session planned for 18:00, due to also include Barak, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, as well as representatives from the Civil Administration and the Defense Ministry.
The main topic of the debate was supposed to be the legal status of the Ulpana neighborhood of the West Bank settlement of Beit El; however, the Hebron house was added to the agenda following the IDF's eviction order as well as Netanyahu's wish to delay the move.
Netanyahu will arrive at the session immediately following a special press conference marking three years since the formation of his government.
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