OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel has had to push back the Jewish resettlement of a Palestinian home in the West Bank city of Hebron for legal reasons, Housing Minister Uri Ariel said on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday called for Israelis to take over the disputed house in response to the killing of an Israeli soldier in Hebron by a suspected Palestinian gunman.
But Ariel admitted to Israeli public radio that Netanyahu's calls held no "official" authority, and that Jews could not resettle the house until its legal status was resolved.
Fourteen Palestinians in Hebron had appealed, after Netanyahu's comments, to the Supreme Court saying the house belonged to them.
Ariel, who lives in a West Bank settlement himself, accused the justice ministry of "systematic sabotage" to prevent the resettlement.
"But sooner or later, the house will be settled and I hope the prime minister and Defence Minster (Moshe Yaalon) will be more firm in future," he said.
The government last year removed 15 Jewish settlers from the disputed Machpela house, a Hebron structure near the volatile Cave of the Patriarchs.
Jewish visitors from last Thursday have flocked in their thousands to the cave during the week-long holiday of Sukkot.
After the shooting of Israeli soldier Gabriel Koby near the cave on Sunday, Netanyahu responded defiantly and ordered the resettlement of the house.
"Whoever tries to uproot us from the city of our patriarchs will achieve the opposite," he said in a statement.
On Monday evening, Orit Struck, an MP for the far-right Jewish Home party which is part of the ruling coalition, joined a group of settlers in moving into the contested building, public radio reported.
The settlers, who claimed to have bought the Hebron building from its Palestinian owners, inhabited the structure briefly before being removed in April 2012, with the defence ministry saying they did not have the necessary permits to finalise the purchase.
Noam Arnon, spokesman for the Jewish settlement in Hebron, told AFP a military court had recently ruled the purchase legal and said all that was needed to finalise the deal was the approval of Yaalon.
But an official involved in the process told AFP the purchase was still facing "legal bureaucracy" issues.