Israel demolishes buildings in southern West Bank

2016-02-02 18:04
Palestinian children search for toys in the remains of their home after it was demolished by Israeli bulldozers. (AFP)

Palestinian children search for toys in the remains of their home after it was demolished by Israeli bulldozers. (AFP)

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Jerusalem - Israeli forces demolished more than a dozen buildings in a disputed military zone in the southern West Bank on Tuesday, leaving a number of families homeless, authorities and residents said.

Soldiers destroyed 24 structures in and around the village of Khirbet Jenbah south of Hebron, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel said. Israeli officials said the structures were illegal.

Forces arrived at around 07:00 and carried out the demolitions, leaving 12 families temporarily homeless, Nidal Younes, head of a local village council, told AFP.

"In total it is around 80 people," he said.

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 NGO told AFP.

The families, many of whom are cave dwellers, argue their ancestors have lived on the land since long before Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967.

A statement from COGAT, the Israeli defence 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."

A High Court injunction later in the day ordered a halt to all demolitions until at least February 9.

The St Yves organisation which submitted the injunction cited, among other reasons, the fact that a number of the destroyed buildings were paid for by the European Union as justification for suspending the demolitions.

The EU did not immediately confirm the claim.

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.

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