IDF declares Hebron area closed military zone after settler rampage
Security forces evacuate disputed Hebron home; footage appears to show settlers shooting at Palestinians.
The Israel Defense Forces declared the area surrounding Hebron a closed military zone on Thursday after settlers rampaged through Palestinian neighborhoods in the West Bank city.
The settlers, who opened fire on Palestinians and vandalized their property, were responding to the evacuation by Israeli security forces of a disputed house in Hebron earlier in the day.
"Non-residents will be forbidden from entering the region. This decision seeks to prevent civil disorder throughout the Judea region," said the IDF Spokesperson's Office in a statement Thursday.
The move was apparently a bid to quell the violence in Hebron, and prevent supporters from joining the rioting settlers in the region. During the riots, settlers had set fires to at least three Palestinian houses and burnt nine cars, the Palestinian fire chief said.
In the statement, the army also stressed that, "The IDF, Israel Police and Border Police will take harsh measures against anyone who attempts to harm the security forces."
About 35 settlers and soldiers were hurt in the evacuation of the building. Rescue workers and Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital said one settler was moderately wounded, and the others were lightly injured. The operation came about three weeks after the High Court had ordered the state to evacuate the building immediately.
The Israeli rights group B'Tselem released a video that appeared to show a settler shooting a Palestinian in the stomach from point-blank range, and Palestinians pelting the settler with rocks.
Palestinian hospital officials said 17 Palestinians were wounded, including five from bullets.
Dozens of masked settlers surrounded the home of a Palestinian family in the city, setting its laundry ablaze and throwing stones at it. Haaretz correspondent Avi Issacharoff, who was inside the house at the time, was hit by a stone hurled by the group outside.
Police used stun grenades and tear gas in a bid to subdue the rioting settlers.
Hebron settlers also entered the Shapira House, a structure in the city that was evacuated two years ago. Riot police spread out in the city firing stun grenades, but failed to quell the violence.
In other parts of the West Bank, settlers threw rocks at Palestinian vehicles and burned an olive grove, Palestinians said.
The Palestinian governor in the Nablus region, Jamal Moheisen, warned that if Israeli forces did not bring its settlers under control, we will call on the Palestinian residents to go out to the streets and fight back.
After nightfall, settlers were still scuffling with Israeli forces in front of the disputed building.
The Israel Defense Forces declared the whole of Hebron a closed military zone later in the day in an effort to prevent the entry of other settlers into the area.
Security forces complete evacuation of disputed Hebron home
Earlier Thursday, Israeli security forces stormed Hebron's so-called "House of Contention," dragging out some 250 settlers who barricaded themselves inside and hurled rocks, eggs and chemicals at their evictors.
A police officer was moderately hurt when settlers threw acid in his face. One of the settlers sustained serious head wounds, and he was whisked into an ambulance on a stretcher. About 20 settlers were arrested during the course of the evacuation.
It was the first major West Bank evacuation since a violent 2006 confrontation at the outpost of Amona. Settlers attempted to go back into the four-story structure, but soldiers formed a human chain around the house to keep them from doing so.
Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovitz said the evacuation of the house, one of the most volatile flashpoints in the West Bank, was completed in about 20 minutes.
Scenes of violence played themselves out as some 600 soldiers and policemen started to evict the settlers. TV images showed two young girls punching and hitting soldiers. Security forces in full riot gear used stun grenades and tear gas to repel the settlers.
The security forces took over the house in a surprise operation. Then they began dragging out the 250 people inside one by one, their hands and legs held by teams of two or four officers.
Nearby, fist fights broke out between settler youths and Palestinians in the area. Magen David Adom emergency services deployed two helicopters along with a fleet of ambulances to the scene to evacuate the wounded.
Right-wing activists blocked the main road to Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon, and scuffled with police who tried to disperse them.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he ordered the army to evict the settlers after all attempts to persuade them to leave peacefully failed. Barak had met with settler leaders earlier in the day and the sides failed to reach a compromise.
The evacuation of the disputed house caught settlers by surprise, though Barak had earlier in the day ordered community leaders to vacate the house to enable quicker legal proceedings over the matter.
Barak met earlier Thursday with settler leaders in a last-ditch effort to strike a deal over the disputed building. The meeting yielded little compromise and Barak told the settlers to vacate the house in accordance with the High Court's November 16 ruling, even before legal proceedings over ownership of the building was complete.
"This house ... will be evacuated and will be guarded by the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the state until the court rules on its ownership," Barak said during talks with settler leaders in Tel Aviv, saying the youths who clashed with Palestinians and IDF soldiers were "reckless."
During the meeting, which was set to be held Wednesday and canceled twice, Barak said that immediate evacuation of the house would enable legal authorities to expedite proceedings over the ownership claims.
"Citizens must accept the state's authority," said Barak, referring to the settler youth who refuse to evacuate the property. "We will not allow extreme elements to undermine the authority of the state and its foundation."