JERUSALEM, May 5 (Reuters) Israel's High Court today agreed to a government request to delay the eviction of two dozen Jewish settlers from a building in the West Bank city of Hebron by a few days.
The court yesterday cleared the way for security forces to evict the settlers, who have been squatting in the three-story house for a month in a bid to expand their enclave in Hebron.
It had ordered the settlers to leave by 11.00 a m (0800 GMT) today but the government sought a delay because the Jewish Sabbath would start a few hours later. Ownership of the building is claimed by Palestinians.
The settlers have vowed to stay in what could be an example of the challenge Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faces over his plan to set Israel's borders by removing settlers from parts of the West Bank if peacemaking with the Palestinians remains frozen.
Olmert has not, however, said what he intends to do with some 400 settlers who live among 130,000 Palestinians in Hebron, a frequent flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
The court gave Israeli security forces until Monday to carry out the eviction. Israel Radio said it would take place on Sunday.
The settlers argue they purchased the property legally from the owners.
''We should not be evicted from property we own. I am very doubtful people will leave the house voluntarily,'' said David Wilder, a spokesman for the Hebron settlers.
Settlers in Hebron condemned the eviction notice.
''The High Court is making a joke of itself,'' Orit Stuk of the Hebron settlers committee told Israel Radio.
In its decision today, Judge Elyakim Rubinstein of the three-man justice panel urged a non-violent evacuation.
Around 200 protesters and police were injured in clashes when Israel dismantled an unauthorised settler outpost in the West Bank in February. Police described it as the fiercest violence they have ever faced from Israeli Jews.
The World Court has branded Israeli settlements built on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal. Israel disputes this.
As part of his ''convergence plan'' for imposing Israel's final borders by 2010, Olmert has pledged to evacuate isolated Jewish settlements in the West Bank while building up several larger blocs in the territory. Palestinians say this would mean the annexing of land and deny them a viable state.
Israel withdrew some 8,500 settlers from Gaza last year.
Hebron is holy to both Jews and Muslims as the burial place of biblical patriarchs.
REUTERS OM KP1749