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Israeli army carries out drills in Jordan Valley after expelling Palestinian residents

Jan. 24, 2017 1:40 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 25, 2017 4:52 P.M.)
Bedouin shepherds walk past tents set up in the Jordan Valley near the West Bank city of Jericho. (AFP/File)
NABLUS (Ma'an) -- The Israeli army forced out dozens of Palestinians from their homes in the village of Khirbet al-Kurzaliya in the northern Jordan Valley on Tuesday morning to carry out military training exercises, a day after dozens of structures were demolished in the area.

Bilal Abd al-Hadi, the deputy mayor of Aqraba, a town located west of Khirbet al-Kurzaliya, told Ma'an that Israeli troops started military drills with live ammunition in the village early on Tuesday morning after evacuating residents.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an they were looking into reports.

Abd al-Hadi said that Israeli forces demolished two makeshift homes and four agricultural structures in the small community of Lifjim, also known as al-Fajam, located between Aqraba and Khirbet al-Kurzaliya on Monday evening.

Bulldozers also closed the main road to the village, he said.

A spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in Palestinian territory, told Ma’an they were looking into the reports.

Hours earlier Monday morning, Israeli forces demolished structures in Khirbet al-Kurzaliya.

A COGAT spokesperson told Ma’an at the time that the structures were razed to ground for being built without Israel-issued permits, adding that they had been previously demolished, and that they were located in a “firing zone.”

Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem released a statement in Hebrew on Monday condemning the demolitions in Khirbet al-Kurzaliya, explaining that Israeli forces demolished residential tents of two families as well as two sheep pens, leaving 13 people -- including six children -- homeless.

Israeli forces had also bulldozed part of a road that provides access to the isolated community.

According to B’Tselem, three families live in the small community of shepherds.

The community has faced repeated home demolitions since 1972, when the Israeli army declared the area around it “Closed Military Zone Number 904,” under the pretext that it was needed for military training.

According to B’Tselem, forces destroyed three residential tents as well as the main road there last February.

In 2015, the Israeli Civil Administration demolished homes on two different dates, the last of which was in March, when forces bulldozed the road.
Structures were also demolished in the community in 2014.

Rights groups have said that Israeli military training zones, known as a "firing zones," are used as a pretext to fully annex portions of the occupied West Bank.

Nearly 20 percent of the occupied West Bank has been declared "firing zones" since the 1970s, but according to the UN, nearly 80 percent of these areas are not in fact used for military training.

However, when military training does take place, Israel forces families to leave their homes for hours or days at a time until the drill is over.

Communities that find themselves inside declared "firing zones" face a high risk of losing their livelihoods, homes, and schools.

Forming a third of the occupied West Bank, with 88 percent of its land classified as Area C -- under full Israeli military control -- the Jordan Valley has long been a strategic area of land unlikely to return to Palestinians following Israel's occupation in 1967.

Israeli forces have carried out demolitions and confiscations in the Jordan Valley on at least four other occasions since the beginning of the year -- demolishing homes, a school, water pipelines, and confiscating tractors.

Demolitions of Palestinian infrastructure and residences occur frequently in Area C, with Bedouin and herding communities being particularly vulnerable to such policies.

Israel almost never gives Palestinians permission to build in land classified as Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control -- leaving residents no choice but to build their homes without permits who “live in constant fear of their homes and livelihoods being destroyed,” Israeli rights group B’Tselem has said.

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