Troops at Peace House
Troops at Peace HouseIsrael News Photo: (Flash 90)

The U.S. State Department praised Israel's government for its actions in expelling Jews from their homes Thursday afternoon in the Peace House apartment building in Hevron, saying the residents had illegally occupied the site.

State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood characterized the violent clashes in which dozens of activists were injured by Yassam government forces as "a difficult situation." He added in his briefing Friday morning with reporters in Washington D.C. that the Israeli government was doing what it could to make sure the residents comply with the laws in Israel.

"They were basically arresting people -- removing people from a site that they were occupying illegally," said Wood. A reporter, asking for clarification, repeated the question, "Did you say a site they were occupying legally or illegally?"

Wood repeated, "Illegally."

Wood said the government was "trying to do what it can to tamp down, you know, any kind of violence," adding that troops were especially focused on preventing Jews from attacking Palestinian Authority Arabs.

The issue of whether the residents were legally allowed to live in Peace House has yet to be settled by the High Court of Justice, inasmuch as the ownership of the building is still in dispute. An eviction order issued by the court had offered the government the option to forcibly remove the residents from the site, but did not mandate the action, despite claims by Defense Minister Ehud Barak that the court had ordered the action.

Although the building was purchased by a Jew from its Arab owner in a filmed transaction for the sum of $700,000 in cash, the seller later recanted after he was arrested and threatened with execution by the Palestinian Authority. In the PA, as in Jordan, selling property to a Jew is considered a capital crime and is punishable by death.