Crime against Jewish history, says one

HEBRON (West Bank): Israeli police, using sledge hammers, chain saws and power clippers, stormed a building in the West Bank town of Hebron early on Tuesday and dragged out hundreds of settlers who had holed up there illegally, hoping to expand the Jewish presence in the volatile biblical city.

Settlers spit and hurled stones, water, oil and concrete powder as police, backed by army troops, broke through fortified doors and carried out the squatters one by one. Three settlers sealed themselves inside a concrete bunker built for the standoff.

“This is a crime against justice and against Jewish history,” said Noam Arnon, a spokesman for the Hebron settlers. “I am sure we will return. Hebron has a long history and we will return.”

Police said four soldiers, 14 police officers and 12 settlers were injured during the evacuation. One settler and six police were hospitalised. Eleven settlers were briefly detained and two arrested.

Rebellion by soldiers

The operation followed the highly publicised refusal of several orthodox Israeli infantry soldiers to take part in the evacuation. The army sentenced a dozen soldiers, including two commanders, to brief jail terms for the rebellion.

Israel controls the centre of the city, including a hotly disputed holy site holy to both Jews and Muslims — the traditional burial site of the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and three of their wives. Its large military presence often hinders the movement of Palestinians.

“You’re Hamas people,” one woman screamed repeatedly at police while being dragged from the scene.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the settlers’ presence there was illegal, but they ignored orders to evacuate.

Hundreds of supporters moved into the building in recent days, reinforcing the doors and windows with metal and concrete in preparation for the raid.

Settlers claim the property was owned by Jewish families for decades until Jordanian authorities seized it after the 1948 Israeli war of independence. Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in 1967. — AP