Page last updated at 21:54 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Stakes raised in Hebron stand-off

Jewish settler in Hebron
Settlers refuse to leave the legally contested house in Hebron

Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron have been involved in further clashes with Israeli security forces and local Palestinians.

Tensions rose after Israel declared a large building occupied by settlers to be a "closed military area".

Israeli forces then barred Jews from entering Hebron's Palestinian section.

Israeli politicians say the building will be forcibly evacuated if no agreement can be reached with the settlers.

Haaretz, the Israeli daily, reports that Defence Minister Ehud Barak is due to meet the settlers on Thursday, in a last-ditch effort to salvage a peaceful outcome.

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said on Wednesday: "It is clear to all of us, including the settlers, that this issue would be best solved in agreement. However, if need be, the security system will use force."

'House of contention'

President Shimon Peres also weighed in, accusing the settlers of damaging the country. "Whoever throws a stone at a soldier attacks the state, and we cannot allow that."

However, settlers insist that they will not go voluntarily. "We will refuse any compromise," said US-born settler David Wilder. "This expulsion is illegal."

The violence began two days ago amid rumours that settlers were about to be evicted from the four-storey house.

Jewish supporters have joined the settlers as they refuse to leave the house, in defiance of a court order.

Hundreds of settlers and supporters continue to blockade the building, throwing stones at Palestinians and the police.

Divided into H1 and H2 under 1997 agreement
115,000 Palestinians live in H1 under Palestinian security control
H2 is under Israeli security control and is home to several hundred settlers and 35,000 Palestinians
Tomb of Patriarchs and traditional Palestinian town centre are in H2

Reports say some Palestinians have retaliated by throwing stones at the settlers and that a number of Palestinians and Israelis have been arrested.

Several people are reported to have been injured.

About 600 Jewish settlers live in the mainly Palestinian city, with several thousand more in surrounding settlements.

Ownership of the building, known as the "house of peace", is in dispute.

It has recently been dubbed the "house of contention" in the Israeli press.

The Israeli military says Jewish settlers in other parts of the West Bank have also blocked roads and thrown stones at Palestinian cars.

Several hundred hard-line religious settlers live in the centre of Hebron under heavy military guard amid some 150,000 Palestinians.

The settlers say that they bought the house in question in a legal transaction from its Palestinian owner for nearly $1m (660,000), but he says he pulled out of the deal.

Israel's supreme court ordered the eviction in November but settlers have refused to leave.

They have been involved in several clashes since the order was issued, and have desecrated a mosque and a Muslim cemetery.

Hebron is holy to both Jews and Muslims as the site of the cave that Abraham bought as a burial site for his wife Sarah.

All settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

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Lebanon Daily Star Israeli forces stand by as ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers go on rampage in Hebron - 15 hrs ago
Washington Post Dozens hurt as Hebron settlers, Palestinians clash - 23 hrs ago Dozens Hurt in Settler, Palestinian Stone Fight - 26 hrs ago
The Times Hebron settlers riot against Israeli troops amid evacuation rumour - 27 hrs ago
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