Aid agencies working in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem expressed concern on Friday at a sudden increase in Israeli demolitions of Palestinian property at the same time as renewed U.S.-backed peace negotiations.
“International and local aid organizations 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,” said the statement by 25 aid organizations - including Oxfam and Christian Aid.
Of the 663 Palestinian structures torn down last year, the highest number in five years, 122 were constructed with international donor aid, the statement added, Reuters reported.
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.
Citing Israeli obstruction and confiscation of 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.
On Thursday, a U.N. agency sounded the alarm over Israel demolishing 390 shacks and other structures in the Jordan Valley in 2013, displacing nearly 600 Palestinians, twice as many as the year before.
Earlier today, the Israeli military removed Palestinian activists protesting in a West Bank village, the status of which is a central issue in the U.S.-brokered peace discussions with the Jewish state, the Associated Press reported Friday.
Hundreds of activists had been protesting for a week at Ein Hijleh, a Palestinian village in the Jordan Valley abandoned after Israel captured the land from Jordan in the 1967 war.
The army said troops evacuated the activists after they ignored calls to leave the area.
Abdallah Abu Rahmeh, a protest organizer, said soldiers raided the site early Friday.
The fate of the valley is a sticking point in U.S.-led negotiations that seek to produce a deal on setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The Palestinians want that state to include the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in 1967.
The Jordan Valley would form the eastern border of a Palestinian state with Jordan.
Israel seeks a long-term military presence in the valley even after any deal, citing security concerns, including the possible influx of weapons and militants from the east. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he would consider a gradual Israeli troop withdrawal from a Palestinian state over five years, but not longer.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Israel demolished 390 Palestinian-owned structures in the valley in 2013, up from 172 the year before. Some 590 Palestinians were displaced last year, compared to 279 in 2012, the agency said.
No immediate comment
Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the demolitions, but Israel has said in the past it demolishes structures set up without permits.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, a Palestinian district official, Ghassan Daghlas, said about 100 olive trees were damaged in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday in an alleged attack by militant settlers near the village of Yanoun.
On the outskirts of another village, Qusra, militant settlers, some of them masked and armed, approached Palestinian farmers working their land Thursday and demanded that they leave, said village resident Ahmed Talat. A scuffle ensued, he said. The military arrived, Palestinians threw stones and soldiers fired tear gas, Talat said.
The military said soldiers dispersed the stone-throwers. It had no immediate comment on the alleged settler attack near Yanoun.
Also Thursday, the EU foreign policy chief urged Israel to reverse its decision to approve building permits for 558 apartments in Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem. Municipal planners approved the permits Wednesday.
Rockets fired at Israel
Meanwhile, Israel’s army said that a third rocket fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza strip landed in southern Israel on Thursday night, although no injuries were reported.
Two rocket attacks earlier had both fell on open ground, Agence France-Presse reported.
Israel often responds to such activity by launching air strikes into Gaza.
Earlier this week, Gaza’s Hamas rulers said that they had redeployed a 600-man security force to prevent cross-border rocket fire, after news that it had withdrawn the unit two days before.
The Palestinian Islamist movement would “not allow the occupation [Israel] to break off the ceasefire” that ended a heated eight-day conflict with Israel in Nov. 2012, said Hamas spokesman Islam Shahwan.
While Hamas itself does not routinely launch rocket attacks, Israel claims that the group is responsible for such strikes.
(With Reuters, AFP and the Associated Press)SHOW MORE