Jewish settlers take over buildings in West Bank

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JERUSALEM — Dozens of Jewish settlers took over a number of Palestinian buildings in the heart of the West Bank city of Hebron on Thursday, Israeli officials said, a day after Israel approved the expropriation of some 370 acres of land in another part of the territory.

Police said about 100 settlers entered three “empty stores.” Israeli media said the settlers entered two buildings near an important shrine holy to both Jews and Muslims.

Zeev Elkin, a pro-settler lawmaker from the ruling Likud party, said in a statement the settlers entered houses that were bought legally, a claim that could not immediately be independently verified. Elkin praised the settlers for “expanding the Jewish presence” in the city.

Hebron, a city where 850 Israeli settlers live in heavily-guarded enclaves surrounded by tens of thousands of Palestinians, is a frequent flashpoint for violence. It has been a focal point in the current wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence, and clashes broke out after the settlers entered the buildings.

The approval granted to the land expropriation outside of Jericho drew condemnation from Israel’s most important ally, the U.S. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played down the plan Thursday, calling it a “routine” survey of land whose fate hasn’t yet been fully determined.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians want for their hoped-for state. Much of the international community view West Bank settlements as illegal.