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Israeli forces raze land in Bethlehem for establishment of new Israeli settler outpost

April 1, 2017 1:05 P.M. (Updated: April 3, 2017 8:02 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli bulldozers razed more than 15 dunams (4 acres) of land in the area of Khallet al-Qutun near Tuqu in the occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem on Thursday. Locals told Ma'an that the land was being prepared for a new Israeli settler outpost.

Local activist Hmeid Mizher told Ma’an that Israeli bulldozers razed land in the area and uprooted trees after destroying the barbed wire that residents had placed around them.

Mizher added that the lands belong to Omar al-Afandi and his brother Mustafa al-Afandi, Jamal al-Zghari, Muhammad Abd al-Qader Abu Laban, Ahmad Abu Srour, Bassam al-Farrahin and Riyad al-Abbasi.

He also pointed out that residents had an ongoing case active in Israeli courts against the confiscation of land in the area, saying that Israel’s razing of the lands was “unexpected” considering the legal battle underway.

Mizher said that Israeli authorities are planning to take over these lands to build a new Israeli settler outpost, considered illegal even by the Israeli government, near the already established settlement of Efrat -- constructed in violation of international law.

A spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, was not immediately available for comment.

On Friday, Israeli forces leveled 12 dunams (approximately 2.9 acres) of privately-owned Palestinian land in the Artas village southeast of Bethlehem.

The Israeli government in recent months has dramatically expanded its settlement plans in the Palestinian territory through the adoption of pro-settler legislation, approving thousands of new settler units, and approving the first new settlement in the West Bank in 20 years.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, passed the outpost “Regularization law” in February, which could grant official Israeli governmental recognition to more than a dozen illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank established on private Palestinian lands. Rights groups have underscored that the law provides a green light for Israeli settlers to escalate the establishment of outposts on Palestinian land.

The law states that any settlements built in the West Bank “in good faith” -- without knowledge that the land upon which it was built was privately owned by Palestinians -- could be officially recognized by Israel pending minimal proof of governmental support in its establishment and some form of compensation to the Palestinian landowners.

When the establishment of the new settlement was announced, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also announced his final approval to market land on which 1,992 new settler units --including 698 in Alfei Menashe, 612 in Beit Illit, and 630 in Beit Arie -- would be constructed, and also declared 977 dunams (241 acres) of Palestinian land as Israeli state land for the retroactive legalization of three Israeli settler outposts.

Right-wing Israeli Knesset members have also spearheaded a bill to annex the massive Maale Adumim settlement. Maale Adumim is the third largest settlement in population size, encompassing a large swath of land deep inside the occupied West Bank's Jerusalem district. Many Israelis consider it an Israeli suburban city of Jerusalem, despite it being located on occupied Palestinian territory in contravention of international law.
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