Israeli authorities and settlers have seized large tracts of land in the occupied West Bank for security zones around Jewish settlements beyond an Israeli-built barrier, a human rights group said on Thursday.
In a new report, the Israeli B'Tselem group said 12 settlements east of the barrier had been fenced off under an official "Special Security Area" (SSA) plan, blocking Palestinian farmers from reaching their fields. B'Tselem estimated that the overall area of some settlements in the plan had more than doubled.
Asked about the B'Tselem report, the Israeli army said it had established security zones around settlements after they had been attacked repeatedly by Palestinians. "The use of these zones has been approved a number of times by the Israeli Supreme Court. Any building in these zones is illegal," the army said, according to Reuters.
B'Tselem said it could give only a rough estimate of the total territory closed to Palestinians but that at least 1,126 acres (456 hectares) had been "unofficially annexed" outside the 12 settlements. It said half of the closed-off land was privately owned by Palestinians.