Israeli forces demolished 24 Palestinian buildings in a disputed military zone in the occupied West Bank Tuesday, including 10 funded by the European Union, leaving families homeless, authorities and residents said. Meanwhile, Israel lifted daylong restrictions on access into and out of the Palestinian political capital Ramallah in the West Bank late Monday, imposed after a checkpoint shooting that wounded soldiers.
Soldiers destroyed the structures in and around the village of Khirbet Jenbah south of Hebron, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel said. Israeli officials said the buildings were illegal.
An EU spokesman denounced the demolitions and said that 10 of the buildings had been constructed with funds from ECHO, the European Commission’s humanitarian arm.
The soldiers arrived at around 7 a.m. and carried out the demolitions, leaving 12 families temporarily homeless, said Nidal Younes, head of the local council of a neighboring village.
“In total it is around 80 people,” he told AFP. Israel has carried out a long campaign to relocate the residents of the area, which was declared a military zone by the Israeli government in the 1970s.
Human rights groups have repeatedly challenged Israel’s claim to the land, arguing it is illegal to establish a military zone in occupied territory, Sarit Michaeli from the B’Tselem nonprofit told AFP.
The families argue that their ancestors, who were cave dwellers, have lived on the land since long before Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967.
A statement from COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry unit that administers civilian affairs in the West Bank, confirmed “enforcement measures were taken against illegal structures and solar panels built within a military zone.”
The EU called on Israel to change its policies in the occupied West Bank.
“The EU expects its investments in support of the Palestinian people to be protected from damage and destruction,” said a spokesman, who condemned the demolitions.
A High Court injunction later in the day ordered a halt to all demolitions until at least Feb. 9.
The residents of the region had been undergoing a process of arbitration with Israeli authorities after a High Court ruling, Michaeli said.
However talks broke down in recent days.
“This basically means we are back to square one. The government wants to remove them. The residents object,” Michaeli said.
COGAT said the negotiations failed as “the building owners showed no willingness to get the situation in order and illegal construction did not stop.”
As such, “measures were taken in accordance with the law,” it said. In total, more than 1,000 people could be affected, Michaeli explained, as there are around 10 other villages that could face similar action.
The villages are represented by a number of different legal teams, so Tuesday’s demolitions concerned only one of the claims.
In other developments Tuesday, Israel’s parliament passed a law on expanding police powers, allowing them to stop and frisk suspects without probable cause, in the latest attempt to crack down on near-daily Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
Critics say the law will allow police to racially profile minorities and Arabs.
While previously police could only search people suspected of carrying a weapon, under the new measures officers can search anyone in areas declared by district police commanders to be possible settings for “hostile sabotage activity.” They can also search people they suspect might commit violent crime.
Arab lawmaker Jamal Zahalka said that it was “clear the main people affected will be Arabs and people who look like Arabs.”
In October, Israel approved new measures to crack down on violence. Steps approved included allowing police to impose a closure on points of friction or incitement according to security assessments.
Israel also resumed the demolition of homes belonging to Palestinian assailants. The military said Tuesday security forces measured the home of Amjad Sukkari, 34, a Palestinian police officer who shot at Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint Sunday, wounding three before troops shot him dead.
Following this attack, the military blocked access to Ramallah to all but city residents, and only residents of other towns and humanitarian cases were allowed to leave before reopening it late Monday, citing a “situation assessment.”
Ramallah is the seat of the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority and is a commercial center, drawing workers from around the West Bank. “Internal closures” were common during the Palestinian uprising that ended a decade ago, but have been rarely used in recent years.
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