The Israeli army said on Wednesday it removed an uninhabited settlement near the Jewish outpost of Kiryat Arba next to Hebron.
Under international law, all Jewish settlements are illegal, a stance not recognised by Israel.
Israeli media quoted Jewish settler leaders in Hebron as accusing the army of “destroying a synagogue and targeting Jewish presence in this area”.
“This obviously is a big lie,” Abd al-Hadi Hantash, a Hebron municipal official and expert on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, told Aljazeera.net.
“It seems to me that [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon wants to give an impression that he is dismantling settlements ahead of his planned visit to Washington.
“In fact, we are talking about the removal of a tent and two secondhand mobile homes from a hilltop south of Kiryat Arba. In any case, the settlers will move them back on to the same site tomorrow or after tomorrow after the whole world got the impression that a settlement had been dismantled.
“It is a cynical public relations game, nothing more than that.”
Armed settlers throw stones at Palestinians in Hebron before being arrested by Israeli police and soldiers.
An Israeli settler aims at a
However, Hantash said the Israeli army coordinates with settlers.
“Israel claims to be a state of law. But how come a state of law allows the building of so many illegal settlements on usurped land belonging to Arab villagers?
“And why does the army pave roads to these outposts and give them water and electricity. The army and the settlers are two sides of the same coin.”
Even before the army hauled the two mobile homes away from the hilltop overlooking the Hebron-Bani Naim road, die-hard settlers in the area converged on the site to protest and try to block the removal of the tent.
Kiryat Arba mayor Zvi Katzover accused the army of destroying “a synagogue”, an apparent reference to the dismantled tent in which the settlers occasionally held their prayer.
“We will do all we can to rebuild the outpost and save the country,” he said.
Settlers seize building
Meanwhile, rampaging Jewish settlers raided and seized a multi-storey Arab building in the Silwan neighbourhood of occupied Arab East Jerusalem early on Wednesday, sparking clashes with local Palestinian youths.
Israeli police arrest a settler
Israeli police forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the Palestinians.
Medical sources in East Jerusalem said at least three Palestinians were injured.
It is not clear if the incident is connected with the removal of the two mobile homes near Hebron.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the seizure of the building might have been intended as a protest against what happened in Hebron.
But it could also be an attempt by Jewish settler groups to confiscate yet more Arab-owned real estate.
Many of the settlers are affiliated with an extremist group, Oteret Cohanim, dedicated to ridding Jerusalem of all non-Jews.
Palestinian leaders in East Jerusalem say the recurrent seizure of Arab property is carried out through deception, falsification of documents and outright bullying, sometimes with government support.