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Israeli leader delays settler evictions
Israeli PM delays planned evictions of settlers from occupied house in volatile West Bank city
By The Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) ' Israel's prime minister says the planned evacuation of a group of Jewish settlers who illegally occupied a West Bank house has been put on hold.

Benjamin Netanyahu told a news conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday that he has asked his defense minister to wait with the eviction while the case is investigated. He did not say how long that will take.

The settlers took over the house in the volatile city of Hebron in an overnight raid last week. The military ordered them to leave by Tuesday afternoon because they did not have the required permission to move in.

But the deadline passed without any action, and the settlers remain inside the building.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

JERUSALEM (AP) ' Dozens of Jewish settlers on Tuesday ignored a deadline to evacuate an illegally occupied West Bank house, as the government remained silent on whether they would be allowed to stay.

The passing of the deadline and lack of action from authorities compounded doubts about the willingness of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to take on settlers who have tried to cement the Jewish presence on lands claimed by the Palestinians for a future state. Both Netanyahu, who has sided with the settlers in the already volatile city of Hebron, and the defense minister, who wants them to leave, were silent.

The settlers took over the house in the volatile city of Hebron in an overnight raid last week. On Monday, the military ordered them to leave the building by Tuesday afternoon because they had not received the required military approval to live there.

But hours later, Netanyahu asked Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the ultimate authority in the West Bank, to let the settlers stay while they "make their legal case," the prime minister's spokesman Mark Regev said.

Regev did not explain why Netanyahu sought the delay, even though the settlers acknowledge they deliberately disregarded a requirement to obtain military approval for the purchase. Nor would he say how Barak replied.

After the 3 p.m. (1300 GMT) deadline passed, Barak's office had no comment.

It was the second time in weeks that Netanyahu has interceded on behalf of Jewish settlers trying to remain in West Bank homes they occupied illegally.

Netanyahu's government is dominated by hardline parties who are sympathetic to the settlers. The Palestinians, backed by the international community, say settlements are illegal and counterproductive to peace by gobbling up the same land they claim for their future state.

Netanyahu's intercession came just weeks after his government tried to bypass an Israeli Supreme Court order to dismantle a large West Bank settler enclave by March 31. The enclave, Migron, was built without government authorization on privately held Palestinian land, in violation of Israeli law.

The court rejected the government's request to delay Migron's evacuation until November 2015, but has given it a four-month extension to carry it out. Netanyahu has said he will respect the court decision.

Migron settlers, who zealously believe they have a God-given right to the West Bank, have said they will not go quietly.

The eviction order for the Hebron house similarly threatened to touch off a violent confrontation between security forces and a militant settler community. 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.

Hebron settlers and their supporters have violently resisted similar eviction orders, retaliating with attacks against Palestinians.

About 850 settlers now live in Hebron in heavily guarded enclaves among 180,000 Palestinians. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers enforce a rigid separation between the two sides.

Settlers say they bought the house from a Palestinian property owner, but the military said it had not yet ascertained whether the purchase was legitimate. That process could take days or weeks, military spokesman Maj. Guy Inbar said. The mayor of Hebron, Khaled Osaily, told Army Radio that the purchase documents were fraudulent, and that the seller was not acting on behalf of the building's owner.

The Jews in Hebron are just a small fraction of the half a million settlers who have moved to the West Bank and east Jerusalem since Israel captured those territories.

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