Israeli forces assisted some 100 settlers in the illegal occupation of a building in Hebron last night.
The property was stormed by 15 families after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu encouraged the building of a new illegal settlement called Beit HaMachpela in the area. Palestinian residents were evacuated from the house, which is close to the Ibrahimi Mosque, despite an ongoing court case as to ownership, according to the Times of Israel.
Netanyahu also reportedly asked security forces to permit settlers to storm the property; a move that the Palestinian occupants say was a form of collective punishment in response to the ongoing protests over access to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Hazem Abu Rajab Al-Tamimi, a resident of the house, told Ma'an news agency that Israeli forces had been stationed outside the property for two days before eventually allowing settlers to enter. Israeli occupying soldiers then forced the Palestinians out and hung an Israeli flag from the roof.
This is the second time the building has been a target for Israeli settlers. In 2012, the same families squatted in the area professing ownership of the property, but were removed when a court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate their claim.
The settlers have since called on the government to "boldly raise the banner of settlement and loyalty to the land of Israel".
Israeli NGO and settlement watchdog Peace Now released a statement confirming and condemning the incident.
We demand that the government orders the immediate evacuation of the settlers who invaded Beit HaMachpela. After their claims of ownership had been denied, the settlers have decided to take the law into their own hands and establish an illegal settlement that might ignite the region.
After Jerusalem, Hebron has witnessed the most clashes between Palestinians and Israeli occupation forces after the implementation of new security measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque. The city was also a site of controversy earlier this month, following a decision by UNESCO to recognise the Ibrahimi Mosque as a Palestinian World Heritage Site endangered by Israel.