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Israeli Riot Police Enter Restive West Bank City

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HEBRON, West Bank — Escalating aggression by extremist Israeli youths holed up in a disputed house in the biblical city of Hebron approached the boiling point Wednesday as Israel's government vowed to evict them.

Israel ordered in 300 riot police to rein in the young settlers, who again hurled stones and debris at Palestinians living nearby and at Israeli soldiers guarding the four-story building that the settlers call the "House of Peace."

Teenagers prayed, played guitars and stood around aimlessly when they weren't throwing rocks and paint-filled balloons. Black stars of David daubed on nearby Muslim gravestones, smashed windows at a Palestinian house and a wall tagged with a spray-painted Hebrew word _ "revenge" _ were evidence of the increasing violence.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak scheduled a meeting with settler leaders Thursday morning to try to settle the dispute over the building's ownership, Barak's office said in a statement.

The building is a settler enclave in a city where some 500 Jews live under military guard among 170,000 Palestinians.

Settlers moved in without government authorization last year. They contend they bought the property from a Palestinian, who claims he had planned to sell them the building but changed his mind. Israel's Supreme Court ruled last month that the settlers should vacate the building until a lower court decides who the rightful owner is.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised that the court's order would be implemented. "Once the Supreme Court has ruled that a specific structure should be evacuated, it will be evacuated. I will not allow anyone to challenge Israeli democracy," he said.

But it remained unclear when, or if, the government would move against the building's occupants. The West Bank is dotted with around 100 unauthorized settler outposts that Israeli authorities have not touched.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said paramilitary border police, who are better trained for riot control, would replace soldiers in the neighborhood. Security officials estimated 300 border officers would be deployed.

Settlers say about 20 families live in the building, but the population appears to fluctuate between a few dozen and a few hundred, with any rumor of an impending eviction sending people rushing in from nearby settlements.

The youths, whose average age appears to be around 16, share a fetid portable toilet outside and seem to live off peanut butter, chocolate spread and boiled eggs provided by a Jewish seminary. In a large room with bare concrete walls and air heavy with the smell of unwashed bodies, young people rolled up bed mats as others said morning prayers.

A sign on the building invoked the biblical patriarch Abraham, whose purchase of a burial plot in Hebron is cited by the settlers as the root of their claim to the entire city. Another paraphrased the folk singer Woody Guthrie: "This land is our land."

Some girls wore T-shirts that read, "There will be war over the House of Peace."

Two dozen people were injured Tuesday when settlers and Palestinians threw rocks at each other. After the settlers also threw stones at soldiers, the troops used stun grenades against the Israelis.

On Wednesday, Jewish youths clashed with riot police near the building, hurling paint-filled balloons, and unsuccessfully tried to break into another Hebron property claimed by settlers.

The attacks on security forces drew condemnations from Israel's leaders. "We must be clear: If someone throws a stone at a soldier, it is as if he is throwing a stone at the state of Israel," President Shimon Peres said.