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Israel court allows eviction of some Hebron settlers

By Staff
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JERUSALEM, May 4 (Reuters) Israel's High Court today cleared the way today for security forces to evict two dozen Jewish settlers from a house they have been squatting in for a month in a bid to expand their enclave in the West Bank city of Hebron.

The court ruled the settlers had until 11.00 a.m. (0800 GMT) on Friday to leave the three-storey building, whose ownership is claimed by Palestinians. The settlers argued they had purchased the property legally from the owners.

''We advise those in the house to leave of their own volition in order to avoid needless confrontation,'' the three-justice panel said in its ruling.

Hebron, a frequent flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian violence, is home to 130,000 Palestinians and some 400 Jews. The city is holy to Muslims and Jews as the burial place of biblical patriarchs.

The court did not decide who owned the house, ordering it to be boarded up until that dispute was resolved.

David Wilder, a spokesman for the Hebron settlers, said there had not been a decision on whether to honour the High Court's eviction notice.

''We will sit and make a decision later this evening on what we plan on doing,'' he said.

The settlers moved into the house on April 6.

The dispute arose three months after Israel forced nine settler families to leave an unauthorised enclave they had set up in Hebron's former wholesale marketplace.

Those settlers had agreed to leave peacefully after a standoff that lasted several weeks. They said at the time they left on the understanding Israeli authorities would allow them to expand the Hebron enclave at a later date.

The dispute in Hebron is an example of the challenges incoming Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will face over his plan to set Israel's borders by 2010.

As part of the plan, Olmert has pledged to evacuate isolated Jewish settlements in the West Bank while building up several larger blocs in the territory, a move Palestinians said would annex land and deny them a viable state.

The World Court has branded as illegal Israeli settlements built on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel disputes this.

REUTERS PM PC2157

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