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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Israel to demolish West Bank village in 'several weeks'

Razing Khan Al Ahmar would cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank

People celebrate after Israel delays eviction of the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan Al Ahmar, in the occupied West Bank. Reuters 
People celebrate after Israel delays eviction of the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan Al Ahmar, in the occupied West Bank. Reuters 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Sunday that the Bedouin village of Khan Al Ahmar in the West Bank would be demolished as originally planned, backpedaling after intense pressure from the far-right sections of his cabinet over his earlier announcement that the razing would be delayed.

Late on Saturday, Mr Netanyahu said he would indefinitely postpone the forced eviction of the 180 residents of the hamlet to negotiate a deal with those who live there.

"The intention is to give a chance to the negotiations and the offers we received from different bodies, including in recent days," a statement from Mr Netanyahu's office said on Saturday.

By Sunday the Israeli prime minister had appeared to have changed his mind and, later, his cabinet voted to demolish the hamlet in "several weeks".

"Khan Al Ahmar will be evacuated, it's a court ruling, that's our policy and it will be done," he said. "I have no intention of postponing this until further notice, contrary to reports, but rather for a short, defined period of time."

Israel's Supreme Court recently rejected a final appeal, paving the way for Khan Al Ahmar's demolition.

Mr Netanyahu convened his cabinet on Sunday, which decided to delay the demolition by "several weeks" in order to provide time for negotiations over an evacuation.

Israel has come under heavy criticism, with major European countries urging it to avoid the demolition of Khan Al Ahmar. The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor recently said such a move could constitute a war crime. The United Nations, European Union and rights groups have urged Israel not to raze the village, citing the impact on its community and prospects for peace.

But the Israeli leader also drew fire from his own cabinet for appearing to acquiesce to the international clamour for Israel to call off the demolition. Those far-right coalition partners want to see the village razed.

The Palestinians say Israel wants to carry out the demolition to connect a line of illegal West Bank settlements that would separate East Jerusalem from the West Bank, areas captured by Israel in a 1967 war.

Most countries consider settlements built by Israel on land it captured in 1967 as illegal and say they reduce and fragment the territory Palestinians seek for a viable state.

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Israeli authorities say the small village, located east of Jerusalem along a road leading to the Dead Sea, was built illegally, and had given residents until the beginning of October to evict themselves and demolish the structures.

"The period of time to try to evacuate [the village] with [the residents'] agreement will be determined by the cabinet," said Mr Netanyahu. "I will convene it today, we will set a date. It will be short, and I believe it will be with consent."

The village is in the 60 per cent of the West Bank known as Area C, which remains under exclusive Israeli control and is home to dozens of Israeli settlements. Israel places restrictions on Palestinian development there and home demolitions are not unusual. As part of interim peace deals in the 1990s, the West Bank was carved up into autonomous and semi-autonomous Palestinian areas, known as Areas A and B, and Area C, which is home to some 400,000 Israeli settlers.

The Palestinians claim all the West Bank and say that Area C, home also to an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Palestinians, is crucial to their economic development.

Palestinians said resistance to Israel’s plans to demolish the village would continue until the order was completely revoked.

At the same time, far-right Israeli ministers have made it clear that their protests would continue until the hamlet was completely levelled.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman made it clear he favors demolishing Khan Al Ahmar without delay.

Naftali Bennett, head of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, adopted an even stronger tone.

"This is illegal building whose destruction was approved by the Supreme Court," he tweeted.

Both he and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked were the sole votes against Mr Netanyahu's proposal to delay the vote by several weeks.