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Israeli police evict Jewish settlers from center of West Bank's Hebron

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

A Jewish settler is stopped at a checkpoint manned by Israeli border police near a house illegally occupied by settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron, Wednesday.

Israeli police evicted Jewish settlers Wednesday from a building they said they had bought from a Palestinian in the heart of the West Bank city of Hebron, a frequent flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The presence of the 15 settlers in the two-story structure had caused divisions within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's mainly right-wing cabinet, where Defense Minister Ehud Barak, leader of a centrist party, has pushed for eviction.

Netanyahu had asked Barak to give the settlers more time so they could present legal evidence of their claim to ownership of the building, which has been disputed by Palestinian authorities. But defense officials said they had entered without the approval of Israeli security authorities in a particularly sensitive area in the occupied West Bank.

A statement issued by Barak's office hours before the eviction said the government had a duty to "uphold the rule of law."

Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a member of the Palestinian Parliament and leader of the Palestinian non-violent protest movement, joins UP w/ Chris Hayes from the Occupied West Bank where he is leading a peaceful movement that is rarely seen in U.S. media coverage.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police and paramilitary border police carried out the eviction in accordance with a government decision.

Rosenfeld said security forces met no resistance during the operation.

The settlers had sought to expand a settlement of some 500 Israelis in the heart of Hebron, a biblical city that is home to about 250,000 Palestinians and where enmity between the two groups runs high.

Burial site of Abraham
The biblical city is home to the traditional burial site of Abraham, the shared patriarch of both Jews and Muslims, and the only place where Jews live in the heart of a West Bank city. It has been a focus of Israeli-Arab violence for decades.

Though politically strong, Netanyahu has faced questions within his Likud party and other right-wing coalition partners about his commitment to the settlers, many of whom see themselves as exercising a Jewish birthright to biblical land.

In an announcement issued just minutes before the settlers were removed from the building, Netanyahu said he would soon ask the government to grant formal status to three West Bank settler outposts built more than a decade ago without state permission.

Netanyahu's move to approve those outposts retroactively raised speculation he was trying to mollify settler leaders angered by the Hebron eviction.

About 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas which, along with the Gaza Strip, were captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Most world powers deem the Jewish settlements illegal and Palestinians fear their presence will deny them a viable state. Israel disputes this and has vowed to keep major settlement blocs under any eventual peace accord with the Palestinians.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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