JERUSALEM Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would allow Jewish settlers evicted by the Israeli army from two houses in the West Bank city of Hebron to return once proper permits were in place.
Israeli settlements in occupied territory, deemed illegal by most countries, are a fundamental issue in the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a factor behind a recent wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis.
About 80 settlers were removed from Hebron on Friday a day after Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon withheld his required approval of their occupancy in apartments in a city where tensions between Israelis and Palestinians run high.
The settler group said it had bought the homes from Palestinian owners. But Yaalon said the settlers had failed to seek permission from Israeli authorities to move in and were trespassing.
A Netanyahu aide said on Friday that the prime minister supported Yaalon's decision to evict the settlers, a step that drew criticism from members of the right-wing coalition government and threats to withhold support in parliamentary votes.
But the aide said the settlers could take up residency again after completing the necessary paperwork.
In public remarks at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said his government "supports the settlements" and would expedite an examination of the settlers' case.
"The moment that the purchase process is authorized, we will allow the population of the two houses in Hebron," Netanyahu said, confirming his aide's remarks.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller)