The state informed the High Court of Justice on Thursday it was delaying by two-and-a-half months the evacuation of Jewish settlers in Hebron from Palestinian stores they illegally seized four years. According to a previous notification, the state said it would evacuate the settlers by the end of December. According to Thursday's notification, the date has now been set for February 15, 2006. The state said that on October 10, it had informed the Committee of the Hebron Jewish Community that it would consider the committee's request to lease the stores, but only after the squatters had vacated them. In response to a more recent request by the committee, however, it had decided to consider the possibility of terminating the status of the municipality of Hebron as the protected tenant of the stores. It told the court that if it decided to do so, it would consider leasing the stores to Jewish settlers, but not the ones who had illegally moved into the stores in 2001. The stores once served as the Hebron wholesale market and are located between the Avraham Avinu complex and the main street of Hebron, which links the Jewish residents of Avraham Avinu to other Jewish enclaves at Beit Hadassah and Beit Romano. Jewish residents of Hebron purchased the market area 200 years ago and occupied it until they fled the city during the 1929 riots. After the War of Independence, the Jordanian Custodian of Abandoned Properties took control of the buildings, which in the meantime had become a busy wholesale market. The Israeli Custodian took control of the property in June 1967 and has been responsible for it ever since. In 1994, after the massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein in the mosque of the Machpela Cave, the army expelled the Palestinian merchants from the market. The area remained empty until 2001. Shortly after the killing of Shalhevet Pass by a Palestinian sniper in March 2001, Jewish settlers moved into the empty stores and turned them into homes. On June 27, 2001, the Municipality of Hebron and 16 storekeepers petitioned the High Court of Justice to oust the squatters and allow them to return to their stores.