Page last updated at 12:20 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

Hebron settlers desecrate mosque

Israel soldier painting over graffiti on Hebron mosque
Israeli troops quickly painted over the inflammatory graffiti on the mosque

Jewish settlers protesting against an official Israeli eviction order have desecrated Muslim buildings in the flashpoint West Bank town of Hebron.

They sprayed "Death to Arabs" and an insult to the Prophet Muhammad on a mosque wall and vandalised a cemetery.

Israeli troops were seen painting over the graffiti. A soldier was injured in scuffles with settlers, the army said.

The high court has ordered dozens of hardline settlers to leave a house in the overwhelmingly Palestinian town.

The dispute over the strategically located building has raised tensions even higher than usual between settlers and Palestinians in Hebron.

Settlers say they bought the building legally from its Palestinian owner, although he denies the claim.

The Israeli Supreme Court has ordered they must leave the building and set a deadline of Wednesday 19 November for them to go or face a forced eviction.

Call for protection

About 500 settlers live in enclaves in central Hebron in an area under full Israeli military control. The town has about 170,000 Palestinian inhabitants.

Hebron governor Hussein al-Araj urged Israeli authorities to halt the violence and carry out the court decision.

"What happened is unacceptable," he said. "The Israelis have to enforce the law and stop the suffering of the Palestinians who are living next to settlers. They have to take the settlers from this house and protect the Palestinians."

The ministry of defence has said it will implement the order but legal opinion is reportedly divided on whether it must do so within one month.

Hebron is home of some of the most hardline religiously motivated Jewish settlers, and correspondents say the authorities are concerned about the possibility of violent retribution if they are evicted by force.

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