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Israeli troops evict settlers in the West Bank
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Israeli troops forcibly evicted about 200 hard-line Jewish settlers from a contested building in this volatile biblical city on Thursday, the first serious clash in what seems to be a spiraling confrontation between the government and defiant settlers.

Israeli soldiers and police officers forced Jewish settlers from a contested building in the West Bank city of Hebron on Thursday. Some settlers then went on an angry rampage, and Israel declared the southern West Bank off limits to nonresidents. [Agencies]  

The operation, carried out by 600 soldiers and policemen with stealth and efficiency, took half an hour and resulted in two dozen relatively light injuries. But events did not end there. Young settlers then rampaged through Palestinian fields and neighborhoods, setting olive trees on fire and trashing houses.

Maj. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli Army spokeswoman, said the southern part of the West Bank, known in Israel as Judea, was designated a closed military area. That means only those who live here may now enter, an effort to prevent outside settlers from causing further trouble. Within an hour of the order, cars were backed up in huge lines at new military roadblocks.

The contested building, which occupants had dubbed the House of Peace, is on the road to the Cave of the Patriarchs, where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives are said to be buried, a site Muslims and Jews have coveted and fought over for centuries.

As the sun descended, the area around the building looked like a war zone. Evacuees were still being dragged about, with four police officers per person; rocks were strewn on the roadways; plumes of black smoke were rising from the olive groves; and hundreds of helmeted troops in riot gear were confronting a crowd of infuriated settlers.

The men in the crowd wore beards and sidecurls, while women had long skirts and covered heads, members of the religiously observant Jewish population in and around Hebron, which numbers several thousand among hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

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