The sources said that on Thursday as many as 40 religious students studying at the settlement's Talmudic school, known as Yeshiva, ganged up on a group of five Palestinian labourers, attacking them with clubs, sharp objects and rocks.

The Palestinians had valid permits to work at the settlements, according to the Israeli army.

One of the labourers reportedly sustained a serious head injury while three others suffered light to moderate injuries.

Sources at the Ram Allah Public Hospital told Aljazeera.net that one of the labourers, Muhi al-Din Shakarna, had a brain concussion and listed in serious conditions.

"He is now in the intensive care unit and unconscious. We hope his condition will improve," the head of the emergency department at the hospital said.

Army reaction

An Israeli army spokesman told Aljazeera.net the army was not responsible for "settler activities" in the [Occupied] Territories.

"This is the responsibility of the police, not the army," IDF spokesperson Eitan Arusi said.
 

"Israeli soldiers were looking on while the settlers were destroying my home. This makes me feel that the two sides are working in concert with each other"

Shakir Sharabati,
Palestinian resident of Hebron

Palestinians say the Israeli police often encourage settlers to attack Palestinians and refuse to look seriously into crimes against Palestinian civilians.

For instance, on Tuesday, Jewish settlers in Hebron using large hammers destroyed a home belonging to a Palestinian neighbour.

The demolition took place in full view of Israeli policemen and soldiers, according to the home owner, Shakir Sharabati.

"The soldiers were looking on while the settlers were destroying my home. This makes me feel that the two sides are working in concert with each other."

Expulsion aim

As many as 550 Messianic Jewish settlers live in Hebron under constant army protection. They make no secret of their desire to expel or kill the 170,000 Palestinian inhabitants of this ancient city.

Radical Jewish groups have long
plotted to attack al-Aqsa Mosque

Last week, Jewish settlers attacked and beat Palestinian shepherds east of the town of Yatta, threatening to kill them and poison its residents.

The Palestinians, along with peace activists from North America, submitted a complaint against the settlers to the Israeli army's civil affairs department.

The Israeli police failed to arrest any of the settlers.

The latest settler violence against Palestinians coincides with the revelation that Jewish radicals, in cooperation with the leaders of the banned Jewish organisation Kach, were planning to invade the esplanade of al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in order to trigger a bloodbath.

The plotters hoped the violence would lead to the cancellation of Israeli plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.