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(photo credit: Channel 2 [file])
Scores of settlers, some wearing masks to evade identification, clashed with security forces in Hebron on Saturday, where tensions ran high as settlers geared up to resist the forcible evacuation of Jewish families living in Palestinian homes located in a former wholesale market in the city. Sunday is the last day the eight Jewish families can leave the Mitspe Shalhevet outpost of their own accord, if they fail to do so, they will have to be forcibly removed by security forces.
While a definite date for the evacuation has yet to be set, settlers in Hebron's Jewish community quarter assess that the evacuation is imminent. In recent days, scores of Israeli supporters have arrived in the city in an attempt to prevent the evacuation from occurring.
Reports that the government intends to evacuate other illegal outposts does not assist in quelling the tensions, residents of the Jewish quarter in Hebron said, referring to the planned evacuation of houses in Amona north of Ofra, the Scali Farm near Eilon Moreh, the Arusi Farm near Har Bracha, and another site near Yitzhar.
In the unrest that prevailed throughout Saturday, one IDF officer was wounded when a stone hit his eye. After receiving initial treatment at a nearby base he was taken to hospital in Jerusalem. By nightfall a tense calm prevailed, as Israel Police and soldiers beefed up their presence in the city. Police arrested one female settler during the day.
Judea and Samaria Police spokesman Supt. Shlomi Sagi noted that in recent days the situation in the city has escalated, with security forces baring the brunt of the settlers' wrath. "One disturbing fact is that many of the settlers participating in the clashes wore masks to evade identification. Eggs, paint and stones were thrown at police and soldiers," he said. Sagi admitted that the recent spate of violence is a direct result of plans to evict the families dwelling illegally in Palestinian houses in the city.
On Saturday night, the IDF also condemned the violence. A statement released by the army said that under no circumstances would the army tolerate such behavior directed at soldiers and other members of the security forces. "The IDF condemns all violence whether physical or verbal, directed against soldiers and members of the security forces guarding the residents day and night and defending the people of Israel."
David Wilder, the spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community declared that the leadership is doing everything in its power to prevent violence.
"Tensions are high as tomorrow is the cut off date allowing the families in Mitspe Shalhevet to leave willingly. The leadership has tried to maintain control, I fear that if the government decides to go though with the forced expulsion, the situation will run wild," he said. Wilder said that in recent days, because of the intended evacuation, scores of supporters have arrived in the city. He did not rule out the possibility that some of those responsible for the violence live outside of Hebron.
"We do not justify violence and will do our best to restore calm, but there is a limit to what we can do," he said. Wilder said that he could not rule out the possibility that the violence is also a result of provocateurs sent by the government to stir up trouble. "We have seen it in the past when the government sent in Avishai Raviv, it would not surprise us if the government has resorted to a similar strategy again," he said.
According to police, in the afternoon a group of two hundred settlers attempted to force their way into the city's casbah or old quarter, but were pushed back by security forces. At the same time, a group of 150 settlers at the Avraham Avinu Quarter began stoning nearby Palestinian homes, and then directed their anger at security forces, throwing stones at them. Another group of settlers broke in to the Beit Sharbati home, a vacant Palestinian house located near the quarter, and were forcibly removed by police from the site.
The Sharbati house was evacuated by the army several years ago when tensions rose between the settlers and family members and the latter were deemed a security risk. In one incident, one of the family's sons jumped into the courtyard of the Avraham Avinu neighborhood armed with a knife and threatened to kill the Jewish residents.
Last year, the High Court of Justice ordered the army to facilitate the return of the family to the house. Following the decision, the army began constructing a cement wall, which outraged the settlers who declared that such a move endangered the community's security.
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