Standoff with Settlers Concludes with the Evacuation of Apartments

A standoff between the Israeli government and settlers who had occupied scores of empty apartments in a Hebron suburb for three days has ended with both sides declaring victory.

Settlers evacuated the apartments Monday after Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer agreed to discuss the matter further with them.

The situation was defused after President Ezer Weizman brokered a compromise in an at- tempt to avoid a confrontation that some had feared might lead to bloodshed.

The confrontation between settlers and the Israel Defense Force began last Friday, when settlers launched violent demonstrations after a 17-year-old Israeli, Sarit Prigal, was killed by unidentified gunmen.

Prigal was killed a day earlier near her Kiryat Arba home, outside of Hebron, when gunmen opened fire on her father’s car.

On the same day, the body of Pvt. Aryeh Frankenthal, a 19-year-old soldier, was found shot and stabbed to death in a West Bank Arab village.

After Prigal was buried last Friday, settlers occupied some 54 apartments outside the West Bank town of Hebron, the site of a bloody massacre of 29 Palestinians in a local mosque by an Israeli settler in February.

The Labor Party had frozen sales of the apartments when it came to power in 1992, and the government has continued to refuse to hand them over for Jewish occupancy.

After some 15 families evacuated the buildings, Ben-Eliezer met with the settlers and promised them a report on the future of the new quarter.

He later said that “the rule of law” had won an end to the confrontation.

But Zvi Katzover, chairman of the Kiryat Arba municipality, said the settlers had scored a victory. He expressed satisfaction at what he interpreted as Ben-Eliezer’s readiness to help them.

One young settler was asked why he was leaving the apartments so quietly when 24 hours earlier he had sworn he would not leave alive.

“We are following what our leaders tell us to do,” he told reporters.

But, he added, “We’ll be back.”

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