Middle East

Israeli PM seeks delay of Hebron settler eviction

Israeli soldiers stand outside the house in the West Bank city of Hebron, which Jewish settlers have been asked to leave (3 April 2012)
Image caption The settlers did not obtain military approval to buy the house

Israel's prime minister has asked his defence minister to delay the eviction of Jewish settlers who took over a house in the Arab part of Hebron.

Benjamin Netanyahu wants the settlers to be able to stay in the building while they "make their legal case".

Ehud Barak had ordered the settlers out of the house in the West Bank city on Tuesday because they had not received the military's approval to purchase it.

The settlers say they bought the house from its Palestinian owners legally.

But local Palestinian police disputed the validity of the deal, saying the building had more than 50 owners, only one of whom sold his share.

Mr Netanyahu's move comes a week after his government unsuccessfully sought to delay an order from the Supreme Court to dismantle an illegal settlement outpost in the West Bank.

'Provocation'

About 20 settlers moved into the two-storey house in Hebron on Thursday night, seeking to expand the settlement of some 500 families in the heart of the city, home to 180,000 Palestinians.

On Monday, the Israeli military told the settlers they had until 15:00 (12:00 GMT) on Tuesday to leave the house or prove it was theirs, after which the authorities would "act to restore the building to its previous state".

"After examining all the evidence that was handed over and after considering all the circumstances of the incident, it was decided to return to the situation which existed before," the military order said.

The settlers did not obtain military approval to buy the house and their takeover constituted a provocation, it added.

But overnight, Mr Netanyahu "asked the defence minister to allow the settlers in the building to have time to make their legal case", officials in the prime minister's office said.

After the deadline passed, Hebron settlers' spokesman David Wilder told AFP news agency they were awaiting the outcome of Mr Netanyahu's meeting with senior ministers.

"There is nothing new, we are waiting for a decision by the ministers," he said.

About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.