(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff [file])
"It is of the utmost importance to uphold the rule of law, we will deal with outlaws," IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. -Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said during a tour of the IDF's recruitment base on Sunday.
"I feel sorrow for the some of the things that have been said, even things that go against Jewish tradition; but we must uphold the rule of law anyway, and this we shall do. In this case, we prefer talking over using force and will do our utmost to resolve this peacefully, but at the end of the day the law is the law, and we shall stick to it," Ashkenazi said.
Ashkenazi's reservations against forcibly removing the settlers residing in Beit Hashalom in Hebron reflected IDF fears that even some soldiers might refuse to carry out the order and side with the settlers.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Public Security Avi Dichter vowed to carry the High Court of Justice decision to the letter. Settlers on their side said the court ignored a crucial piece of evidence - a tape showing the house's owner acknowledging he sold it - and see Barak and Dichter's insistence on evacuating the tenants in the coming days as cruel and motivated mainly by its nod to their potential electorates in Labor and Kadima, respectively.
On Saturday, officers in the IDF's Central Command said they were concerned that when Barak orders the evacuation, soldiers and policemen who live in settlements would refuse to participate in the operation.
The officers said that commanders were instructed to discuss the upcoming operation with their soldiers, and to prepare them psychologically.
The nine families who live in Beit Hashalom have refused to heed an order by the High Court of Justice to vacate the four-story building as of last Wednesday, but security forces did not move in immediately to remove them. Five new families have since joined them, including that of MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas).
On Friday, thousands flocked to the Jewish section of Hebron to spend Shabbat there and attend the services held at the Cave of the Patriarchs to mark the reading of the Torah portion, Chayei Sara, which describes Abraham's purchase of the cave.
Jewish community spokeswoman Orit Struck said she estimated that at least 20,000 visitors arrived, much the same as every year. Their presence in the city had nothing to do with the pending evacuation, said Struck, but rather was an expression of their reverence for the holiness of the place.
The visitors filled both the sanctuaries inside the cave and the area outside it.
When Shabbat ended, however, scores of Hebron supporters remained in the city so they could be on hand in case the IDF moved against the building.
Despite the tensions of the past week, only a few incidents marred the celebrations.
On Saturday, three youths were arrested after they allegedly attacked policemen. Two were detained after they tried entering the Palestinian part of the city and clashed with policemen who came to stop them.
Later in the day, a group of several dozen youths demonstrated outside the police station and one youth was arrested after he allegedly attacked an officer trying to leave the station.
The IDF and Israel Police were on high alert over the weekend after clashes erupted in the city overnight Wednesday between settlers and soldiers.
During those clashes, one soldier was wounded by turpentine that was poured on his face by far-right activists who were staying inside Beit Hashalom.
The settlers and activists also clashed with Palestinian villagers, slashed the tires of police and IDF patrol vehicles and scrawled the words, "Muhammad is a Pig" on the wall of a village mosque and on gravestones in a Muslim cemetery.
On Saturday, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i called on the settler leadership to rein in the violent youth.
"It is true that we are talking about a fringe group of extremists that stains the name of all settlers, but the leadership also has a responsibility," he said.
"The High Court's instructions to evacuate the building will be carried out. The law will be enforced in the West Bank and such action against soldiers, policemen and Palestinians will not be tolerated."
The disputed building is located on the edge of Hebron, on Worshipers Way, next to the large settlement of Kiryat Arba.
Settlers moved into the house in March 2007, saying they bought it from a Palestinian. The Palestinian owner denied the sale.
The High Court said the settlers should move out of the building until the ownership dispute is settled.
AP contributed to this report
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