Sneh: We'll remove settlers by April 19

Security officials say 1000s of police, troops needed to evacuate Hebron home.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
A contentious Hebron home will be evacuated by April 19, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said Friday. Sneh told Army Radio that entering the home, which is on the road that links Kiryat Arba with the Cave of the Patriarchs, required permission from the security establishment, irrespective of the legality of the purchase. "The choice of the location for this home is not a coincidence," added Sneh. "It is not in immediate vicinity to the other settlers homes in Hebron." Sneh said that it was part of the "strategy of these people" to change the circumstances inside Hebron. Security establishment officials were estimating that thousands of police and soldiers would be required for the evacuation operation if a deal was not struck with the settlers to voluntarily evacuate the building. Defense Minister Amir Peretz announced Thursday night that in two weeks he would remove the settlers who on March 19 moved into the new four-story building. MK Effi Eitam (NRP-NU) said that Peretz had made the decision out of political considerations. "It is plain to see that the defense minister is not acting against the house in Hebron but against the house he is sitting in - the government and the coalition," Eitam told Army Radio on Friday morning. "It is a house which was bought legally," he blasted, adding, "This is real provocation." Peretz's announcement caught the settlers in the apartment building by surprise. They had assumed that their presence in the 3,500-square meter stone structure was permissible, since, they said, they had legally purchased the structure for $700,000. In March, the IDF provided security for the entry of the settlers to the structure, located in an area populated by Palestinians. Still, Peretz said on Thursday the settlers' presence was unauthorized because they had not sought permission from his office to enter the building. Around the time the settlers moved in, the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, an observer group, said in a press release that the IDF had informed it that the settlers had entered the building. The army, according to TIPH, said, "The settlers bought the building from the Palestinian owner, and had a document to prove ownership." A source in the Defense Ministry said that while the sale appeared to be legal, this was immaterial since the important issue was how the settlers entered the building. Peretz, the source said, took a "principled decision to evacuate those who had invaded the home." He did so after consulting with Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, legal advisers and other security officials, said the source. Authorities are now looking for the proper legal tools to evacuate the settlers, the Defense Ministry source said. Peretz said government policy should not be determined by the settlers' purchasing a building, but rather that "it is the government's policy that should determine the purchasing." Hebron's Jewish community protested Peretz's decision. "We know the defense minister has been looking for an excuse to expel us. We know that the sale was legal. We think that any attempt made to subvert the law and to expel us for any technical excuse is racist and anti-Semitic," said community spokesman David Wilder. He said the site had been visited by parliamentarians, including MK Otniel Schneller of Kadima, and that over the last two days some 50,000 visitors had come to Hebron to celebrate Pessah. Wilder said Peretz's chief concern these days should be his own political career, in light of the forthcoming findings of the Winograd Committee investigating his actions during the Second Lebanon War and the May 28 primary for leadership of the Labor Party. "It is obvious that soon he will not be defense minister. He should not make decisions that might have long-term effects while his job is in jeopardy," said Wilder. He added that the community would appeal the decision to the High Court of Justice. Schneller told The Jerusalem Post that the Jews' presence in the building helped secure the access road to the Cave and conformed to government policy. He added that in light of the probable court proceedings, Peretz was unlikely to be in office long enough to implement his decision to evacuate the structure.