Israeli settlers have moved into a contested home in a building in the Palestinian West Bank city of Hebron, residents and Israeli security forces said on Thursday.
“At 1:30 am we heard noises and it was the settlers,” Montasser Abu Rajab, who lives on the first floor of the building in Hebron’s Old City, told AFP.
“They broke the main door and brought their furniture in, accompanied by the army, who locked us in our house,” he said.
The Israeli army confirmed the incident, with a spokeswoman telling AFP that “Jewish settlers have moved into a house in the Old City of Hebron, arguing that the title to the property is contested.”
“The area has been declared a closed military zone, and soldiers have been put in place to keep the calm,” she said.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “police have been dispatched to the scene to verify the legal status of the house and the property titles that are apparently the subject of litigation.”
Palestinian sources in Hebron said the property belonged to the Abu Rajab family, some of whom live on the first floor of the building.
They said it was possible that a member of the family had sold the second floor of the house, but it was unclear to whom, with relatives saying it was to another Palestinian family.
But settlers told Israeli media they had titles to the property, located near the contested religious site known as the Cave of the Patriarchs to Jews and the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslims.
“This is very exciting. It’s taken us years but we have finally been able to buy a house near the Cave of the Patriarchs,” Shlomo Levinger told the Ynet news website.
Speaking to Israeli public radio, rightwing Israeli lawmaker Michael Ben Ari, of the National Union party, said it was “time to recover all the Jewish homes in Hebron stolen by the enemy.”
Hebron is the biggest Palestinian city in the West Bank, home to some 170,000 Palestinian residents, but also a core of around 600 Israeli settlers who live in the heart of the city protected by a large Israeli military presence.
The Old City has become a flashpoint for confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians.
In 1994, a settler from the nearby Kiryat Arba settlement gunned down 29 Palestinians as they prayed at the contested Ibrahimi Mosque/Cave of the Patriarchs site.