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Hebron settlers evicted by force

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People fighting on the street

Israeli forces have evicted about 200 Jewish settlers from a disputed building in the mainly Palestinian West Bank city of Hebron.

Israeli television footage showed police dragging settlers out of the building. Hundreds of officers were involved in the operation.

The settlers had refused to leave the house, after the Israeli Supreme Court authorised the army to remove them.

Settlers later attacked the Israeli security forces and Palestinians.

Clashes

The operation to remove the settlers was over in about 20 minutes, said Israeli army spokeswoman Major Avital Leibovitz.

Soldiers and police formed a barrier around the building to prevent settlers from moving back in.

About 30 settlers suffered minor injuries, while three policemen were hurt by settlers, who threw rocks and food at them. Israeli media reports said that a police officer had acid sprayed in his face.

Settlers later set fire to Palestinian cars and property. Eight Palestinians were hurt, some by gunshot wounds.

Four settlers were later arrested, with more than 20 of their supporters in Jerusalem taken into custody.

Earlier, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak met the settlers.

The operation follows days of stone-throwing clashes between the settlers and Palestinians.

Hundreds of supporters and activists flocked to the area to show their solidarity with the settlers.

Israeli defence officials have expressed fears the Hebron tensions will spill to other areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Legal wrangle

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

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

Israeli soldiers evict a Jewish settler from the Hebron house - 4/12/2008
It took several soldiers to remove each settler from the house

The Israeli Supreme Court ordered the building to be cleared of its occupiers until another court could decide who owned it.

Mr Barak said the building would be handed over to the guardianship of the Israeli military until the dispute was resolved.

Settlers denounced the military action.

"This could have been done peacefully and legally. Instead Barak chose violence," said Danny Dayan, leader of the Yesha settler council.

"This surprised us completely. He threw a match in a pile of gun powder."

But legislator Avshalom Vilan, a member of the Meretz-Yahad party, defended the evictions as a victory for justice.

"This was a test for the rule of law and it shows there is one law for everybody for people in Hebron, Tel Aviv and everywhere," he said.

It was the most significant fight between hard-line settlers and the Jewish state in three years, says the BBC's Tim Franks near the scene.

The house is in a strategically important position between Hebron's Jewish settlements and an important religious site sacred to both Jews and Muslims, says the BBC's James Stephenson in Jerusalem.

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



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