Israeli soldiers take over homes and activist group’s offices in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
Israeli troops raided the offices of an activist group that monitors human rights violations by Israeli military forces and Jewish settlers, and took over homes in neighbouring districts, a rights group and residents told Al Jazeera.
“The area is besieged,” Issa Amro, coordinator of
Youth Against Settlements in the Old City of Hebron, told Al Jazeera by telephone on Saturday.
Amro said dozens of Israeli settlers gathered outside the building, celebrating the raid and chanting for Israeli troops to kill the Palestinians.
“They are rejoicing that they took over my home and building,” he said.
“One of the soldiers said that they were [raiding the home] as punishment for speaking to the international media about what’s happening in Hebron.”
The raid took place hours after Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian homes in several Hebron neighbourhoods.
Settlers also attempted to kidnap a Palestinian resident, according to local media reports.
Israeli soldiers also occupied several family homes in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighbourhood, according to locals.
“The [Israeli] soldiers banged on our door at 5am and said they had an order to take over our home for 24 hours,” Shada Haddad told Al Jazeera by telephone, adding that the troops forced the five family members into a single room.
Explaining that 20 soldiers had taken over the home, Haddad said that she, her parents and two siblings were not allowed to go to the bathroom without the soldiers’ permission.
Haddad, who is 25 years old, was eventually allowed to leave the house to get food, but she was unable to return due to violent clashes between Israeli soldiers and settlers and Palestinian youth near her neighbourhood.
“The settlers were chanting ‘Death to Arabs’,” she said.
Arwa Abu Heikal, another resident of Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighbourhood, said settlers had attacked her residence and her neighbours’ homes.
“It is terrifying here right now,” she told Al Jazeera. “The area is full of soldiers. They are even on my roof right now.”
Contacted by Al Jazeera, the Israeli military declined to comment on the situation in Hebron.
“Hopefully this will calm down. This is not a life,” Arwa said, explaining that settlers threw stones at Palestinian homes, as well as threatening and cursing the residents.
The escalation comes on the heels of weeks of soaring tensions. Triggered by Israeli incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem, protests spread throughout the Palestinian territory and Israel in September.
Israeli troops have responded with force, using live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets, tear gas and stun grenades.
Since October 1, Israeli troops or settlers have killed at least 76 Palestinians, including bystanders, unarmed protesters and alleged attackers.
Of the Palestinians killed during that period, at least 22 were in Hebron and the surrounding villages.
On Friday night, an Israeli soldiers shot dead Thawarat Ashrawi, a 72-year-old Palestinian woman, as she drove her car in the Halhul village near Hebron. An Israeli army spokeswoman claimed she had tried to run over the soldiers, although eyewitnesses dismissed the accusation.
Throughout that period, nine Israelis have also been killed and dozens more injured in shooting or stabbing attacks carried out by Palestinians.
Hebron has been a focal point in the continuing unrest. The city is divided into three spheres of control – including full Palestinian Authority administration, joint administration between Israeli military forces and PA police, and full Israeli control.
Amid the 37,000 Palestinians that live there, thousands of soldiers are stationed in the “H2 area” of the city – under full Israeli military control – to protect the 600-strong Jewish settler population.
Most Israeli settlers carry government-issued firearms and some have attacked Palestinians in Hebron and elsewhere in the past.
The city is also home to the al-Ibrahimi Mosque, known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and the site where the Biblical prophet Abraham is believed to be buried.
On Friday night, three Israeli soldiers were injured in two separate shooting incidents allegedly carried out by Palestinians in the Hebron area.
In recent weeks, the Israeli military has closed off several parts of the city to Palestinian residents, tightening restrictions on their movement and limiting their access to certain neighbourhoods and landmarks.
Rights groups have slammed Israel for its harsh restrictions on local Palestinian residents and for failing to prevent settler attacks that target Palestinians.
“There has been no ‘normal fabric of life’ in Hebron for many days, and the measures taken in the name of security are draconian and not dictated by reality,” B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, said in a statement on Friday night.
Israeli forces have set up additional checkpoints and road blocks throughout the city and have restricted access to the Old City and other neighbourhoods for non-residents.
On Friday, Israeli forces ordered several local Palestinian-owned shops in the Old City to stay closed until further notice.
In late October, Amnesty International called on the Israeli military to take measures to prevent the escalating settler attacks against Palestinians.
“In the space of less than a month, attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians in Hebron have escalated from what was already an unacceptably high level,” Philip Luther, director of the group’s Middle East and North Africa programme, said in a statement.
The Israeli military’s “apparent failure to intervene during some of the recent settler attacks effectively makes them complicit”, Luther added.
Back in Tel Rumeida, Shada Haddad said: “Every day is getting worse here. We are scared. We can’t even walk home without being harassed by soldiers or settlers.”