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Israel blocks European envoys' visit to threatened Palestinian Bedouin village

AFP , Thursday 5 Jul 2018
Al-Khan al-Ahmar
Israeli policemen scuffle with a Palestinian in the Bedouin village of al-Khan al-Ahmar near Jericho in the occupied West Bank July 4, 2018 (Photo: Reuters)
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European diplomats on Thursday tried to pay a solidarity visit to a West Bank village under threat of demolition by Israel but police barred them from reaching a school there.

Diplomats from Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the European Union sought to visit the school in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar which is funded by several European countries, but they were turned back at the village entrance.

Police at the scene said the area had been declared a closed military zone.

"We were briefed by local leaders but refused access by security forces to the school," the Irish representative office to the West Bank wrote on its official Twitter feed.

"We wanted to show our solidarity with this village which is threatened with destruction, for humanitarian reasons and because it is a major issue of international law," the Consul General of France in Jerusalem, Pierre Cochard, told journalists at the scene.

He said that demolishing the village of 173 residents, east of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, would be a violation of the Geneva convention laying out the obligations of an occupier toward those under its control.

It would also significantly complicate the search for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

Israeli authorities say the village and its school were built illegally, and in May the Supreme Court rejected a final appeal against its demolition.

Activists say the villagers had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as the documents are almost never issued to Palestinians for building in parts of the West Bank, such as Khan al-Ahmar, where Israel has full control over civilian affairs.

The army said on Thursday that following the court ruling the process of enforcing eviction and demolition orders was under way, but did not say when the buildings would be razed.

"The organisations responsible for the matter, including security forces, have begun preparing for the execution of demolition warrants that were issued against illegal buildings in Khan al-Ahmar," it said in an English-language statement

"Accordingly, the preparation of the routes necessary to enforce the warrants has begun, as well as infrastructure works in an alternative area for the residents who will be evacuated."

Activists expect the demolition to happen within the next few days.

Scuffles broke out Wednesday as a bulldozer went to work levelling ground next to the village in what residents believed was preparation for an imminent eviction operation.

Protesters, including some waving Palestinian flags, tried to block the bulldozer and tussled with police. Some climbed onto the machine in protest.

The village is made up mainly of makeshift structures of tin and wood, as is traditionally the case with Bedouin villages.

Dozens of journalists and activists stood at the edge of the village on Thursday.

"What the Israeli authorities are doing is a population transfer contrary to the Rome and Geneva conventions," Palestinian lawyer Munji Abdallah, 50, told AFP.

Khan al-Ahmar is located near several major Israeli settlements and close to a highway leading to the Dead Sea.

Activists are concerned that continued Israeli settlement construction in the area could effectively divide the West Bank in two.

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