Surge in Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes
RAMALLAH // Aid agencies working in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem expressed alarm yesterday at a spike in Israeli demolitions of Palestinian property coinciding with renewed US-backed peace negotiations.
The statement by 25 aid organisations said the number of demolitions increased by almost half and the displacement of Palestinians by nearly three-quarters between July 2013, when the talks began, and the end of the year, compared to the same period in 2012.
Of the 663 Palestinian structures torn down last year, the highest number in five years, 122 were built with international donor aid.
The International Red Cross announced this week it would stop delivering tents to Palestinians made homeless by demolitions in the Jordan border region of the occupied West Bank, citing Israeli obstruction and confiscation of aid.
“International and local aid organisations have faced increasingly severe restrictions in responding to the needs created by the unlawful demolition of civilian property, in violation of Israel’s obligation to facilitate the effective delivery of aid,” wrote the groups, which included Oxfam and Christian Aid.
Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 war. It quit Gaza in 2005, and the enclave is now governed by Hamas, which is opposed to the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s peacemaking strategy.
The Palestinians want the more than half a million Jewish settlers there, along with Israeli soldiers, to leave the occupied territories. Israel balks at such sweeping pullouts, citing historical claims on the biblical lands.
The Jordan Valley, the proposed eastern border of a future independent Palestinian state, has been especially contentious as Israel insists on keeping an army presence there after any peace accord. Palestinians have rejected this, saying a temporary international force should do the job, with Israel observing.
In recent decades, the Palestinian population in the region has declined as the water supply from the River Jordan has been diverted and Israel set up military zones and settlements.
Palestinian activists set up a protest camp in a derelict village there last week. At dawn Israeli forces scattered the group ahead of a mass rally for Friday prayers.
“They came in large numbers with their armoured vehicles but that will not break our will, the popular resistance will continue and will be victorious and we will return,” Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian politician and member of the sit-in, said.
Security forces and Palestinians also clashed at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, with police arresting five people.
“Five were arrested for throwing stones at police officers, and police used stun grenades to disperse rioters,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Several Palestinians were injured.
Jerusalem sees regular clashes between Palestinians and police at the compound that houses the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques in the Old City.
In the northern Gaza Strip, five Palestinians were wounded by Israeli army gunfire on Friday near the border fence, Palestinian medical sources said.
Ashraf Al Qudra, a spokesman for the Hamas-run health ministry in the territory, said the five men were in their early twenties.
He said one was in serious condition from a shot to the chest.
Palestinian witnesses said the soldiers opened fire after they were attacked by stones hurled over the border fence.
* Reuters with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
Updated: February 8, 2014 04:00 AM