Undercover Israeli forces detained eight Palestinian children from Aida refugee camp in the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem Monday afternoon, as residents of the camp -- particularly minors -- have recently been subject to an intensification of violent military raids.
Locals told Ma'an that after clashes broke out between local youth and Israeli forces in the camp, a unit of undercover Israeli forces disguised as Palestinians infiltrated the crowd to "kidnap" the young Palestinians, who were all under 15 years old.
A group of uniformed Israeli soldiers rushed to back up the undercover unit who then took the eight children to an unknown location.
They were identified as Amir Ismael Elayan, Izz al-Din Badwan, Mohammad Wahid Qaraqe, Adam Mohammad Darwish, Mohammad Nasser Darwish, Abd al-fatah Abu Shera, Daoud Raed Sharara, and Yousif Mohammad Jawarish.
Sources added that Israeli forces fired rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas canisters at the protesting youth and civilian houses nearby.
In a response to a request for comment, an Israeli army spokesperson told Ma'an that the Israeli army was not involved, and said Israeli police were behind the operation, despite the area being located outside of police jurisdiction in Area A of the occupied West Bank.
When contacted by Ma'an, Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said he was not aware of the raid.
The incident came just a day after Israeli forces released three 14-year-old residents of the refugee camp -- Mustafa Budair, Omar Radi, and Mutaz Baraqaa, who were detained from their homes Thursday morning in a raid without being charged, according to the Lajee Center, a community organization in Aida that provides refugee youth with cultural, educational, social, and developmental services.
"The arrests occurred in the midst of renewed clashes in the camp, where nightly raids and afternoon tear gas attacks have become the norm," a statement published on the center's Facebook page said last week.
The statement said that 14-year-old Mutaz Baraqaa was allegedly violently hit by a blunt object during his detention last Thursday, however the extent of his injuries remained unclear as news of his release emerged Sunday.
"For the past three months, Israeli arrests of the youths have shown a sharp rise, especially after the start of the latest 'uprising,' which began on October 1, 2015. At that time, 13-year-old Abd al-Rahman Ubeidallah was shot dead (on Oct. 4, 2015) while on his way home from school by an Israeli sniper, flaring the protests and clashes," the statement said.
Ubeidallah was the fourth Palestinian to be killed by Israeli forces since the unrest began last year, with a total of 232 Palestinians being killed by Israeli forces and settlers since -- 60 of them minors. In total, 11 Palestinian children under the age of 14 were killed, and another 49 between the ages of 15 and 17.
While the violence has largely been characterized by alleged, attempted, and actual small-scale attacks committed by Palestinians against Israeli targets, 62 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during clashes, police and/or army raids, a number of whom who were not involved in clashes when they were killed.
Aida refugee camp is one of three refugee camps in Bethlehem, in addition to the nearby al-Azza near the northern entrance to the city and al-Duhiesha refugee camp located south of central Bethlehem.
Due to the typically aggressive nature of the near-nightly raids into the camps, clashes often erupt between local Palestinian youth who throw stones and are met in response with tear gas, sound grenades, rubber-coated steel bullets, and even live ammunition, often resulting in serious, sometimes fatal injuries.
Israeli police and soldiers have come under heavy criticism over the past year for what rights groups have referred to as "extrajudicial executions" and excessive use of force against Palestinians -- against youth and children in particular -- who did not pose an immediate threat or who could have been detained through non-lethal means.
Aida is particularly vulnerable to excessive use of force and detention raids -- commonly carried out without evidence of any wrongdoing, as the camp is located beside Israel's separation wall and next to an Israeli military base, with Israeli soldiers being stationed around the clock in a watchtower that looms over the camp.
A report recently released by the Bethlehem-based NGO BADIL in August warned of an intensification of the "systematic targeting" of Palestinian youth and children in the occupied Palestinian territory since the beginning of 2016, particularly in refugee camps in the West Bank.
BADIL's initial investigations into the trend focused on the district of Bethlehem, where at least 83 people were shot with live ammunition between the beginning of the year and mid-August, the majority in their legs and knees, causing both permanent and temporary disabilities.
The escalation of live fire injuries came amid reports of an Israeli army commander responsible for the near-nightly raids into Bethlehem's three refugee camps threatening to disable all the youth in al-Duheisha.
BADIL's investigations continued, releasing another report at the end of September, which documented testimonies from families in al-Duheisha of Captain Nidal making death threats to several camp residents, saying that "the time of shooting you in the legs is over."
The NGO said that the most recent threats "reinforce the claim made by BADIL that these threats and actions are not accidental or isolated incidents, but rather result from a systematic Israeli military policy aimed at suppressing resistance, terrorizing Palestinian youth, and causing permanent injuries and damage to their physical and mental well-being."
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners' Affairs said in September that at least 1,000 Palestinian minors between the ages of 11 and 18 had been detained by Israel since January, including around 70 children from occupied East Jerusalem who were placed under house arrest.
A lawyer for the Committee, Hiba Masalha, cited at the time a number of cases in which Palestinian minors were abused and tortured while in detention.
Interrogations of Palestinian children can last up to 90 days according to prisoners' rights group Addameer, during which in addition to being beaten and threatened, cases of sexual assault and placement in solitary confinement to elicit confessions are also often reported, while confession documents they are forced to sign are in Hebrew -- a language most Palestinian children do not speak.
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