The Israeli military on Monday ordered dozens of Jewish settlers to evacuate a three-story building they occupied last week in the heart of the West Bank's most volatile city, saying they had entered it without receiving approval from defense authorities.

The settlers' entry into the house before dawn on Thursday has threatened to create another flashpoint in the tense city of Hebron. The West Bank city of 170,000 Palestinians, dotted by small enclaves housing about 700 of the most extreme Jewish settlers, is the traditional burial site of Abraham, the shared patriarch of both Jews and Muslims, and has been a focal point of Israeli-Arab violence for decades.

Hebron settler leaders said about 10 settler families entered the house before dawn on Thursday after legally purchasing it from a Palestinian landowner.

A spokesman for the settlers inside the house, Shlomo Levinger, said they moved in the dead of night because they had received information that the Palestinian Authority had learned of the purchase and planned to take over the building.

Military spokesman Guy Inbar said the settlers were ordered to leave the building by Tuesday afternoon, because the house was occupied without the military's authorization, or be forcibly removed. He said the military was still determining whether the purchase was legitimate.

Hebron settler leader David Wilder said the decision was political and insisted the purchase was legitimate.

"There are people who don't want to see Jews living in Hebron," Wilder said. "We are going to do everything we can to see this order is annulled."

He would not say what steps settlers planned to take, but put the blame for the expulsion order on Defense Minister Ehud Barak.