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The Israel Defense Forces is still using Palestinians as human shields, in defiance of a High Court of Justice ruling forbiding the practice, Haaretz has learned.

An IDF force broke into Mahmoud Rajabi's home in the Jabel Johar neighborhood in eastern Hebron at about 4 A.M. last Wednesday and forced three brothers to serve as human shields.

Some 15 soldiers, armed with rifles, machine guns and observation equipment, took over the fourth-floor apartment where the 16 members of the Rajabi family live, at least half of them minors. The family consists of Rajabi and his wife, their children and his son Nabil and his children.

Family members said the soldiers ordered most of them to leave, but held three of Rajabi's sons - Nabil, 30, Raja'ai, 19 and Najah, 13 - captive in the apartment. The three were used as human shields during the soldiers' stay, against their will. The soldiers wouldn't tell them how long the operation would last or how long they intended to remain in their home. The remaining family members went to other apartments in the building, which is owned by Rajabi.

At first, the IDF spokesman denied that the three brothers were being held against their will and said they could leave whenever they wanted. But the force's commander told Haaretz that they were holding the three until the operation ended.

Apparently unaware of the IDF's obligation under the High Court decision not to use civilians as human shields, Liron said it was normal procedure intended "to protect his soldiers' lives." He was also unaware of the IDF Spokesman's denial that the three were being held until the end of the operation.

The commander said that he and the troops were using the family members "to prevent stone throwing and bomb hurling at the soldiers in the house."

He confirmed three men were being held inside the apartment but said, "We are treating them very well here, not at all like enemies. They know we're not here to harm them."

Asked if he knew of the High Court ruling prohibiting the use of civilians as human shields, he said, "I don't know of any violation of the law. I'm ready to do anything to protect my soldiers. What would happen if while I left the building my deputy was attacked with stones or a bomb?"

Asked what he would do if anyone did the same to his family, the commander said, "You're going into politics now, and I don't deal with politics."

Nabil Rajabi said, "The soldiers entered the building without showing any order or telling us why they were breaking in. They ordered the others to leave and told us to stay with them. We had to be with them all the time."

The soldiers left the family's home before dawn on Friday.

The IDF has said in the past that it obeys the court ruling and denied that such means are still in use.

The Rajabis' lawyer, Laviv Haviv, sent a letter to the Judea and Samaria district attorney demanding the brothers be released. "This patently illegal act constitutes a severe infringement of the Rajabi family's rights and dignity, after they were driven out of their apartment," he wrote.

The IDF spokesman said, "Every year starting the first day of Elul (Monday), there are 20 days, on 10 of which only Jews are permitted to pray in the Cave of the Patriarchs [in Hebron]. On the other 10 days, only Muslims are permitted to pray in the cave."

The IDF has been preparing to safeguard the Jewish and Muslim services in the cave, when many worshippers arrive to pray. As part of the deployment, the troops took over commanding positions on rooftops, and in some cases reinforced the troops. In one of the buildings that was taken over, the commander kept some of the civilians at home. This is in violation of procedures and will be thoroughly investigated with all appropriate seriousness.

The IDF is doing all it can to enable both religions' ritual freedom and allocates numerous forces to preserve the worshippers' security and enforce law and order during the events."