IDF may close off Hebron to civilians

hebron protest 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 2 [file])
hebron protest 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 2 [file])
Following a fourth day of violent clashes between settlers and soldiers in Hebron, on Sunday evening a military source said that the IDF was considering imposing a closed military zone in the city. According to the source, the measures would be taken in order to prevent settlers and hilltop youth dispersed throughout the country from streaming into the city to participate in the demonstrations. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert condemned Hebron settlers' behavior on Sunday after they scuffled with security forces for the fourth consecutive day in opposition to the pending eviction of eight Jewish families dwelling illegally in town's former wholesale market. Olmert said security forces have been instructed to act firmly against the rioters and restore calm. "I have ordered the heads of the defense establishment to act firmly. Those who raise their hands against the security forces will be prosecuted in the most severe manner," the acting prime minister declared. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz emphasized that forces would evacuate all settlers in the market as planned, and would in no way be deterred by the demonstrations. He called upon the leaders of the Jewish community in Hebron to act immediately to calm the demonstrators before it was too late. Blaming the settlers for creating an "anarchic situation" in Hebron, senior police officers swore Sunday night to take swift action against the rioters. "We have beefed up our forces in preparation for further riots," said a senior Hebron Police officer Dep.-Cmdr. Shlomo Efrati. "If there will be riots and attacks against Palestinians and security forces we will do whatever it takes to stop them." The rioters, Efrati said, thought they controlled the West Bank city and that they had the right "to burn and pillage Palestinian homes." "Their goal is to pressure us so we won't evacuate them," the officer said. "They want to scare us. They want to create anarchy." While Efrati said he was certain the security forces would succeed in evacuating the settlers from the illegal homes, he added that it was up to the government to ensure that such riots would not erupt in the future. "[The police] have been suffering from the settlers for years," the senior officer said. "The government needs to decide to fortify the police and army in Hebron on a permanent basis since even if we evacuate them they will just go back and take over new homes. It is up to the government to decide if it wants this minority to continue running the city or not." Throughout the day Sunday hundreds of settlers, many wearing ski masks to evade detection, threw eggs, stones and paint at security forces. When soldiers and police attempted to restore calm, some of the violent resisters screamed protests of "Nazi" and "Judenrat." By nightfall, Judea and Samaria police had arrested eight settlers, including a number of minors, for attacking soldiers and police forces. As evening fell, hundreds of policemen, Border Police, and soldiers were deployed in the city, and special anti-riot equipment was brought in to disperse the rioters. Despite a Hebron Jewish community spokesman's promise that the leadership was doing its utmost to restore calm, Hebron leaders diverted the blame for the outbursts to the government's decision to evict the families. The general atmosphere created by the government's intentions does not assist in quelling tensions, the spokesmen said. In recent days scores of settler supporters have arrived in the city to boost resistance to the planned eviction. "The only way to stop the violence is to rescind the expulsion orders," Noam Arnon, spokesman of the Hebron Jewish community said. The first clashes erupted in the morning, when police were forced to declare a gathering of 200 settlers near Beit Hadassah illegal, and succeeded in dispersing them. Towards noon however, a group of settlers set out from the Avraham Avinu quarter and headed to Gross Square in an attempt to reach nearby Palestinian owned homes. As security forces tried to push them back, the settlers resorted to physical and verbal violence against them, throwing stones, paint and eggs, and breaking a soldier's camera in the melee. A shaky calm was restored, but it lasted no longer then a few hours, and towards late afternoon the clashes erupted once again. Luna Ruiz, co-founder of the Tel Rumeida project that encourages volunteers to support Hebron's Palestinians, accused police and IDF of failing to protect the Palestinian civilians. Ruiz claimed that on Sunday, settlers hit a Palestinian man accompanied by a foreign human rights worker, as he was returning to his Tel Rumeida home. She said a group of settlers then attacked a group of human rights workers and followed the Palestinian to his home where they attempted a forced entry. A volunteer human rights activist attempted to bar them and was hit by settlers who then tried to break the camera of other volunteers, when they spotted them filming the incidents. According to Ruiz, they sought assistance from the police three times, who arrived 45 minutes later despite being deployed minutes away. Demonstrators block Highway One to protest Amona evacuation Sunday night Jerusalem police forcibly removed scores of settlers attempting to block Highway One, the main access road into the capital city, in protest of the upcoming evacuation of the Amona outpost near Ofra in the West Bank. Traffic was briefly interrupted, but a large police presence succeeded in driving demonstrators off the road and back onto the pavement. One of the protesters was arrested for causing damage to a police van. Last week, the government announced plans to evacuate the Amona outpost's nine permanent dwellings. In an effort to prevent the evacuation, the homeowners lodged an appeal with the High Court of Justice, which was slated for discussion later this week. Last Thursday, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said plans were underway to evacuate three additional illegal outposts: the Scali Farm near Eilon Moreh; the Arusi Farm near Har Bracha; and a third site near Yitzhar.