Following a late night meeting on Tuesday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and ministers Ehud Barak, Benny Begin and Moshe Ya'alon it was decided that the Jewish settlers who took up residence at the Machpelah house in Hebron would be evacuated from the premises by April 26 if it is proven they had moved into the house illegally.
The decision was based on the opinion of senior judicial officials.
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The affair began last week when dozens of settlers moved into the house, which is located near the Cave of the Patriarchs, claiming they had purchased it from its Palestinian owners.
Palestinians who claim to be the rightful owners of the house in Hebron told Ynet Tuesday that the house was never sold to anyone – Jewish or otherwise.
The house was declared a closed military zone, and the Civil Administration issued an eviction order for the settlers, which stated that "in Hebron a fragile status quo is maintained between the Israeli and Palestinian population. Upholding this status quo prevents confrontations that may lead to loss of life."
The settlers, for their part, denied the claim and said that the Civil Administration has not even examined the legality of the sale of the building. The settlers further claimed that some Civil Administration officials have admitted that documents presented to the Administration prove the house had been purchased legally.
On Monday the Civil Administration ordered the settlers to leave the premises by 3 pm on Tuesday, but later that day, following harsh criticism leveled by rightist MKs, Netanyahu asked Defense Minister Barak to delay the evacuation in order to give the settlers ample time to explore all legal avenues and prove they had purchased the house legally.
Security officials told Ynet the eviction order was issued due to security concerns, claiming the settlers' presence in the house poses a threat to stability in the area. The sources said that even if the house had been purchased legally, the contract still requires the authorization of the defense minister.
Meanwhile, Ya'alon criticized Barak's handling of the affair. "All the defense minister does is start fires. The mandate to deal with the (Jewish) settlement in the West Bank should be taken away from him and placed in the hands of a team of ministers," he said Wednesday.
Specifically addressing the Machpelah house affair, Ya'alon said he does not understand "why Barak claims it would take weeks to check whether the documents presented by the settlers are legal when it can be done in a few days.
The defense minister, he said, is "acting contrary to government policy and is hurting our ability to solve problems."
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