Hebron home now closed military zone

Special Border Police force deployed near Beit Hashalom; 18 settlers, 20 Palestinians hurt.

beit hashalom 88 ap (photo credit: )
beit hashalom 88 ap
(photo credit: )
Settlers clashed with Palestinians and security forces under a hail of stones at the disputed Beit Hashalom in Hebron on Tuesday, as hundreds of people, some of whom have been holed up in the building for weeks, prepared to resist a possible evacuation. A 16-year-old Jewish boy suffered serious head wounds when Palestinians on the roof of a neighboring home began throwing rocks and other debris at a crowd that had gathered below. OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni signed an order Tuesday night declaring the area surrounding the building a closed military zone. Officials said that the order was issued to prevent settlers and far-right activists from reaching the home to reinforce those already there. Since Monday night, 18 settlement supporters and 20 Arabs have been wounded near the disputed structure. Bricks, stones and pottery - a piece of which struck the boy in the head - were thrown from the roof, and settlers responded by stoning the Palestinian home. Soldiers and border policemen who were patrolling the area lobbed stun grenades onto the Palestinians' roof in an attempt to quell the violence. When a small band of young settlers attempted to break through the gate of the Palestinian home with a wooden battering ram, soldiers threw stun grenades at them as well. The incident sparked chaos in and around the home, as soldiers, paramedics and settlers scurried to evacuate the wounded boy while rocks continued to fly in all directions. At one point, a young Jewish man confronted one of the soldiers guarding the gate of the Palestinian home, drawing jeers from the crowd. "Don't touch the soldiers," people yelled. "This is the way we'll lose," another man said. "If we fight each other, we're going to lose." A dozen soldiers entered the Palestinian home, setting up a guard post on the roof and throwing the remaining bricks and debris safely down into the yard. Soldiers were seen entering and exiting the house throughout the rest of the day, keeping the young men and women from Beit Hashalom at bay and enforcing some degree of order. After the crowd began to disperse, police continued to arrest small numbers of teenagers from the disputed structure who had wandered down the road toward other Arab homes. Rocks and light bulbs continued to be sporadically thrown from the roof of the disputed home at passing Border Police jeeps, but the majority of those inside Beit Hashalom were vocal in their opposition to such acts. "There will be no rocks thrown off of this roof!" One woman yelled at a young man after he tossed a stone down toward the street. "Don't do it again!" she said. Nevertheless, IDF officers in Hebron said the settler violence had "grown out of control" and was an indication that any evacuation would be met with fierce resistance. One far-right activist who has been living in Beit Hashalom for the past week said the settlers were preparing "surprises" for any evacuating forces. Soldiers from the Givati Brigade's Shaked Battalion, who were deployed on the roof of the structure, said that they had fought in Gaza and in the West Bank but that the standoff with the settlers was their most frightening experience. On Tuesday, OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni decided to deploy a special Border Police force near the building. "We are scared," one soldier standing outside the home said Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the violence ended. "This is even scarier than operations in the Gaza Strip, since here we're facing off against Jews and not Palestinians." Brig-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, head of the IDF's Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, met Tuesday with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad as well as with Palestinian leaders from Hebron to discuss ways to calm the situation in the city. Officials in Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office said that Eitan Broshi, the ministry's liaison with the settlements, was in daily contact with the Jewish leaders in Hebron as part of efforts toward a nonviolent evacuation of Beit Hashalom. The officials said the plans for the evacuation were being finalized and that the operation would take place in the coming weeks, in accordance with the High Court of Justice's ruling allowing the eviction. "Israel is a law-abiding state and we will not permit attempts by small groups of radical people to undermine the authority of the state," Barak said Tuesday during a tour of an IDF Education Corps base in the North. "We cannot allow this to happen and will not allow it to happen."