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Human rights groups called on authorities to evacuate the settlers immediately.
Several dozen Israeli settlers broke into a disputed house near the Ibrahimi Mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron Tuesday night in reaction to moves by Israel to remove metal detectors at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and replace them with CCTV cameras.
The settlers claimed that they purchased the building legally from the original Palestinian owner years ago. However, Palestinians claim they do not own it and said that if they did buy the structure it could only have been contracted with one of its legal owners who received the house as a shared inheritance.
“We call on the government to bravely raise the flag of settlements and faithfulness to the land of Israel,” a spokesperson of the hardline settlers said.
The settlement watchdog Peace Now called on authorities to evacuate the settlers immediately.
“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,” the NGO said in a statement.
Tensions were already high after Israel installed metal detectors at entry points to Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem after two police guards were fatally shot on July 14, setting off the bloodiest clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in years.
In 2012, the same number of families briefly squatted in the building, but the civil administration ruled that the settlers did not have sufficient evidence proving that they owned the property. They were later evicted by the army.
On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces regional commander declared the area a closed military zone to prevent additional people from entering the building, Haaretz reported. Representatives of Israel's Defense Ministry are currently holding talks at the structure with representatives of the settlers.