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Israeli forces uproot olive trees while settlers level lands in Salfit district

April 11, 2017 6:50 P.M. (Updated: April 12, 2017 5:38 P.M.)
SALFIT (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities on Tuesday uprooted and chopped down more than a dozen olive trees in one area of the central occupied West Bank district of Salfit, while Israeli settlers used bulldozers to level lands in another area of the district, according to reports from locals.

Director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s office in Salfit Ibrahim al-Hammad told Ma’an that Israeli authorities uprooted 15 olive trees and chopped down three others in the al-Zibaq area of Deir Ballut village in western Salfit.

According to al-Hammad, the destruction was part of ongoing land works for a project to build a water pipeline in the area, meant to serve illegal Israeli settlements built on the private Palestinian lands of Deir Ballut.

The trees in question were more than 40-year-old trees, he added, highlighting that more trees are expected to be cut down as bulldozers remained in the area and continued to work on the pipeline.

Separately, Israeli settlers leveled privately owned Palestinian lands north of the Kafr al-Dik village in Salfit.

Witnesses told Ma'an that they saw bulldozers escorted by settlers from the nearby illegal Leishim settlement level agricultural lands and pastures in preparation to expand the settlement, highlighting that the archeological site of the Church of Saint Simeon Stylites, known to locals as Deir Samaan, was “harmed” in the incident.

Local farmer Mahmoud al-Dik expressed frustrations over settlement activity in the area, saying that settlers “have started to take control of the whole area north of Kafr al-Dik,” with bypass roads constructed for settlers “swallowing Palestinian lands.”

A spokesperson from COGAT, the agency responsible for implementing the Israeli government’s policies in the occupied West Bank, told Ma'an that the construction of the water line in the "Shomron" regional council, referring to the council which administers services to dozens of illegal Israeli settlements in the area, was being carried out in order to "increase the water amount."

"A lone number of trees were removed after a tour of the grounds and consent of the landowners," the spokesperson said, adding that the water line "is intended for the use of all residents of the area, Israelis and Palestinians as one, and will increase the water supply immensely."

Last week, Israeli forces uprooted 150 olive trees without prior notice in the Wadi Qana valley in Salfit-area village of Deir Istiya, with a COGAT spokesperson saying at the time that the trees were "illegally planted.”

Late last month, Israeli authorities razed Palestinian lands in the village of Burqin in the western part of Salfit in order to expand an illegal industrial zone constructed for surrounding Israeli settlements.

According to Bethlehem-based the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ), at least 17 illegal Israeli settlements and four Israeli industrial zones have been constructed on Palestinian lands in Salfit.

As of last year, ARIJ reported that 700 hectares (1,730 acres) of land in Salfit have been confiscated for the construction of Israeli bypass roads -- roads which connect Israel’s illegal settlements to Jerusalem and Israel -- and agricultural roads, including a new bypass road currently being built to connect the Ariel settlement to Road 60 cutting through the Palestinian district of Nablus and into Jerusalem.

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