REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Israel’s military on Monday issued an ultimatum to about 100 Jewish settlers who seized control of a three-story building they claim they purchased in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron, where violence between Palestinians and Israelis is common.
The military’s Civil Administration gave settlers until Tuesday afternoon to vacate the building, which is in the Israeli-controlled military zone near the Cave of the Patriarchs and Ibrahimi mosque.
Hebron’s ancient Old City is sacred to Jews and Muslims.
The settlers moved into the building last week during the night. They say they bought the property legally, though they do not appear to have received military permission.
Israeli military officials said Monday that the sale and occupation of the building threatens to upset the fragile security of Hebron.
The house was previously owned by a Palestinian family who say they sold it six months ago to a Palestinian security official. That official may have, in turn, sold the property to representatives of settlers, though the validity of the settlers’ documents has not been determined.
The Abu Rajab family said they sold the house because life had become too difficult in the Israeli-controlled part of the city, where Palestinian access is restricted. The area is home to about 30,000 Palestinians and several hundred Jewish settlers, who are protected by hundreds of Israeli soldiers.
Hoping to clear its name, the family on Sunday took out a newspaper ad in a Palestinian newspaper insisting that they did not sell the property to Jewish settlers. In the past Palestinian property owners have been killed or charged with treason for selling real estate to settlers.
The Palestinian Authority is investigating the matter.
Several right-wing Israeli lawmakers expressed support for the settlers, urging Defense Minister Ehud Barak to rescind the evacuation order and permit settlers to remain.
-- Edmund Sanders
Photo: A Palestinian boy and an armed Jewish settler last Thursday outside the guarded building that settlers occupied in the divided West Bank city of Hebron. Credit: Abed Hashlamoun / EPA.