Netanyahu gives illegal settlements 'unconditional support'
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated his support for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank on Sunday.
"The government supports settlement at any time, especially now when it is under terrorist assault and is taking a courageous and determined stand in the face of terrorist attacks," Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting.
His comments come as he faces pressure from "hardline right-wing" members of his coalition over an incident in Hebron.
His comments on Sunday came at a time of sharp criticism internationally on Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, including from the United States and European Union.
On Friday, Israeli security forces evicted dozens of Jewish settlers from two homes in the heart of the West Bank city of Hebron a day after they occupied them.
The buildings stand near a religious site known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque.
The settlers reportedly stormed the homes under the protection of the Israeli army and police forces. Right-wing Israeli news outlet Arutz Sheva published video footage of the settlers thanking the soldiers and officers.
Jawad Abu Aisheh, deputy head of local activist group Youth Against Settlements, told Ma'an News that Israeli Border Police did not prevent the dozens of settlers who broke through the buildings' back doors and stormed the buildings.
Instead, he said that police forces began firing tear gas at Palestinians protesting against the settlers' actions.
Hebron, home to around 200,000 Palestinians, is a flashpoint in the struggle against Israeli occupation, with several hundred Jewish settlers living in the heart of the city, surrounded by heavy Israeli military guard.
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the Jewish "squatters" had been evicted because they had not followed legal procedures.
But Netanyahu said Sunday that "as soon as the procedures regarding the purchase are approved, we will allow the two homes in Hebron to be populated, as indeed occurred in similar instances in the past".
"The process of checking is starting today," he said at the cabinet meeting. "We will do it as quickly as possible. If, in any case, it is not completed within a week, I will see to it that the cabinet receives a status report."
Abu Aisheh told Maan News that the buildings belonged to Hebron's al-Zakari family, and were being rented out to members of the al-Qafisheh family.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law and are major stumbling blocks to peace efforts.
Settlers frequently attack Palestinians, with 220 homes targeted in 2015 alone.