(JTA) — Twenty Jewish families moved into two adjacent buildings in an all-Palestinian section of the already tense West Bank city of Hebron, sparking more clashes.
The families said Thursday they had legally purchased the two homes from Palestinians and that the previous inhabitants had moved out, several media outlets reported.
However, Palestinian activists said the settlers had broken into at least one of the buildings and that Palestinians were living in it at the time, Agence France Press reported. Rioting broke out soon after between Jews and Palestinians nearby, outside the Cave of the Patriarchs.
The Cave of the Patriarchs is a site holy to both Jews and Muslims. Some 20,000 Palestinians live in Hebron. According to The Jerusalem Post, 1,000 Jews live there; AFP says the Jewish population is approximately 500.
According to The Jerusalem Post, the move represents the first time in four years that Hebron’s Jewish community has purchased a building.
A spokesman for the families, Shlomo Levinger, told the Post that the families have proof of sale and all the necessary legal permits from the civil administration to inhabit the structures, but still need Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s signature.
Security sources told the Post that the settlers still need three major approvals from upper diplomatic and defense echelons.
Israeli Border Police and soldiers stood outside the two buildings during the move but did not interfere, Levinger told the Post.
Yishai Fleisher, a spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community, told AFP that the families had not informed the Israel Defense Forces about the move beforehand “for fear of leaks and efforts to try to stop it.”
Several Likud government ministers, including Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin, publicly praised the settlers’ move, the Post reported.
According to the Post, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said that such action “is more important now than ever. I welcome the determined and blessed efforts of the Hebron residents to redeem and build the land. It is the historic right of the Jewish people to do so.”