Security forces are accelerating preparations to evacuate settlers from a flashpoint house near the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in the wake of heightened Palestinian-settler violence in the West Bank city, and are expected to carry out the evacuation by the end of the week.

The area surrounding what has been dubbed the House of Contention, which the settlers are calling the House of Peace, was declared a closed military zone yesterday. Border Police took control of the area last night and four Border Police companies were deployed in Hebron yesterday.

The IDF banned Jews from entering Palestinian neighborhoods in the area after settlers announced plans to march toward Palestinian villages to protest the evacuation, which was mandated by a recent High Court of Justice ruling that the house must be evacuated. Settlers said they expect the evacuation to take place within the next two days.

The army blames the settlers for instigating clashes with Palestinians, which led to the injury of 18 Israeli security personnel and settlers yesterday, including a 15-year-old boy whose skull was fractured after he was hit in the head by a rock. Twenty Palestinians have been hurt in the clashes since Monday, the Palestinian Authority said.

Two Jewish youths were detained for questioning yesterday on suspicion of involvement in throwing stones at Palestinians near the House of Contention. The extent of the violence recently exhibited by the settlers has been "nearly unprecedented" over the past few days and could spark Palestinian revenge attacks, IDF sources said. They called on educators in West Bank yeshivas and high schools to restrain their students, adding that most of the settlers involved in the fighting were young people from the territories.

Rabbis and principals are ?turning a blind eye to their students' skipping school to go to Hebron, and some are even encouraging them,? an IDF source said.

"We're sorry about the boy who was seriously wounded yesterday," a military official added, "but the truth needs to be said: He is not a resident of Hebron and there was nothing for him to be doing there, in the heart of the riots. He should have stayed in school."

Palestinian residents of Hebron say youths congregate on top of the building and throw stones at passing Palestinians and even Red Crescent ambulances, have written hate graffiti such as "Death to the Arabs" and "Mohammed is a pig" on Muslim homes and mosques, and have vandalized Muslim gravestones. Such behavior has led IDF sources to view extreme right-wing activists as attempting to instigate a "religious war" with the Palestinians. The settlers have inflicted significant damage on Palestinian property, hurling stones at vehicles with Palestinian passengers in four nearby villages, puncturing car tires and breaking windows. They also destroyed some 70 olive trees in a village near Ramallah.

The IDF and police yesterday began preventing Israeli citizens from traveling from the Gush Etzion settlement bloc toward Hebron unless they could prove they live in the area, in an effort to keep other settlers from bolstering the protesters. The decision to close the area to civilians and deploy the Border Police force was also made yesterday, by GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni, after IDF troops in the area had difficulty handling the settlers.

"We cannot accept attempts by small groups of radicals to undermine the authority of the state over its citizens," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday. "Security forces will have to act so that the law is respected."

Defense Ministry officials said Israel will need to take further steps against the settlers responsible for the violence.

Civil Administration head Yoav Mordechai worked yesterday to convince Palestinian Authority leaders, including Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, to try to restrain Palestinian violence in response to the settlers' action. Mordechai told them that the IDF and police were fighting settler violence and the Jewish rioters would be indicted, and expressed regret for the damage to the mosques.