Israelis enter Hebron homes sparking clashes

Hebron (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Dozens of Israeli Jews entered two buildings in the centre of the Palestinian city of Hebron on Thursday, sparking violent clashes over disputed ownership claims, witnesses said.

The buildings stand near a religious site known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque in the heart of the flashpoint southern West Bank city.

"A group of dozens of settlers accompanied by rabbis broke into a building on Shuhada Street,” Jawad Abu Eisheh, an activist with the local Youth Against Settlements group, told AFP.

Shlomo Levinger, a settler in one of the buildings, told AFP they housed apartments and stores. Another building stood between them.

The buildings were vacant when they moved in, he said.

Yishai Fleisher, a spokesperson for the local Jewish community, said the buildings had been bought from the residents legally.

The move had not been coordinated with the army beforehand, he said, "for fear of leaks and efforts to try to stop it".

Israeli forces, however, were later seen protecting the settlers as locals started to pelt them with stones.

Soldiers responded with sound grenades, and a number of injured Palestinians were taken to hospital, an AFP correspondent said.

An army spokeswoman later said the clashes had subsided.

Immigration Minister Zeev Elkin praised Hebron's settler community for "the determined move to expand the Jewish presence in the City of our Patriarchs".

"I call on the defence minister to give the settlers all the help he can, and not give in to the pressures of the Palestinian rioters."

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon would have to approve the settlers' move, which would in effect expand the boundaries of the Jewish enclave in Hebron.

A defence official told AFP the settlers entering the building had neither shown proof of the purchase nor received security or political clearance, implying they would be evacuated.

Under Palestinian law, it is illegal to sell homes to Israelis in the West Bank.

According to Levinger, the Palestinian seller had fled abroad, fearing for his life.

Hebron, which is home to around 200,000 Palestinians, also comprises a community of around 500 settlers, protected by Israeli forces.

Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war, have been declared illegal by the international community.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting