Jewish settlers early Thursday broke into a building in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, evicting the Palestinian tenants who had lived there for decades, dpa reported
The building had apparently been purchased in 1978 by the ultra- nationalist Jewish Ateret Cohanim organization from a Palestinian family living in the United States.
Since then, the new Jewish owners had been unable to evict the Palestinian tenants despite numerous attempts. The Qirrish family had rented and lived in the three-floor, nine-room building since the 1930s.
Initial reports from neighbours, that the Qirrish family were the rightful owners, proved incorrect.
Israeli police cordoned off the building while the settlers and one older Palestinian family member remained inside. The rest of the family sat outside, unable to re-enter their rented home.
The Qirrish family told the German Press Agency dpa they had just returned from a wedding and had been taken by surprise. Only the older family member and his several small great grandchildren had stayed at home.
Munnawar Qirrish, waiting outside Thursday with the rest of her 40-member family, said the Ateret Cohanim organization had repeatedly taken the family to court over the years in a bid to evict them - until now unsuccessfully.
She said the Qirrish family had continued to pay rent to Ateret Cohanim since they bought the building.
"We came back last night to find that our house had been taken over by the settlers. All my belongings are inside," she told dpa.
The police outside the building were preventing the family from re-entering it, she said.
Members of the Ateret Cohanim organization and the older Qirrish family member also remained inside, as police attempted to ascertain the legal status of the building.
A police spokesman told the German Press Agency dpa that the Jewish settlers who took over the building had presented documents to the police, which he said indicated they had purchased the building and were the rightful owners.
The police had taken the documents and were checking their authenticity, he added.
The building is situated in the Muslim quarter of the Old City, about 300 metres from the Temple Mount/Holy Sanctuary plateau, which houses the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites.
The plateau is also the most sacred site in Judaism as it contains the ruins of the Jewish Biblical Temple.
Israel captured East Jerusalem along with the rest of the West Bank from Jordan in 1967.
Before that, Jews had no access to the Old City, located entirely in East Jerusalem.
They regard the capture of the Old City, its Jewish quarter and the Wailing Wall, a remnant of the Biblical Temple's retaining wall, as a "liberation."
The international community, however, regards East Jerusalem as part of the occupied territories.
Ultra-nationalist Jewish organizations have for years been trying to purchase buildings in the Muslim quarter of the Old City and elsewhere in East Jerusalem.
Around 3,500 settlers live in some 75 "outposts" in the Muslim quarter under special security measures