Watchdog fears seizure of more land in West Bank

Palestinian protesters hurl stones at Israeli troops during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Qadomem, in the West Bank village of Kofr Qadom near Nablus on Thursday, November 17, 2017. (REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Updated 18 November 2017
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Watchdog fears seizure of more land in West Bank

JERUSALEM: An Israeli settlement watchdog has denounced a legal opinion by the attorney general (AG), saying it could pave the way for the seizure of more Palestinian land in the West Bank.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said in a legal opinion that Israel could, in certain circumstances, confiscate private Palestinian land for the benefit of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now denounced the development in a statement.
“It appears that the AG is attempting to remove the last legal (and moral) barrier on the road to turn theft and expulsion into a formal way of establishing settlements in the occupied territories,” it said.
Peace Now and other observers said Mandelblit’s opinion, which was made public on Wednesday, breaks with former positions on the confiscation of private Palestinian land for state use.
Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 in a move never recognized by the international community.
Its settlements are deemed illegal under international law and widely seen as the main obstacle to peace.
Mandelblit’s legal opinion is tied to Haresha, an “illegal outpost” west of the city of Ramallah, on the West Bank, said Peace Now.
It said the attorney general “seeks to approve the confiscation of private Palestinian lands in order to legalize an access road” to Haresha.
“Confiscating the land would constitute a severe violation of international humanitarian law and of the Palestinians’ right to own property.
“The AG’s legal opinion regarding the access road might lead to additional confiscations of private Palestinian lands,” and could “strengthen Israel’s hold over Palestinian territory,” said Peace Now.
Mandelblit issued his opinion after Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a staunch supporter of settlements, urged him to reconsider an earlier legal opinion concerning the road leading to the Haresha outpost.
International law sees all Israel’s West Bank settlements as illegal, but Israel distinguishes between those it sanctions and those it does not.
More than 600,000 Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem among 2.9 million Palestinians, with frequent outbreaks of violence.


Shells hit south Syria city for first time in three years

Updated 17 min 25 sec ago
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Shells hit south Syria city for first time in three years

  • The Syrian Observatory said opposition forces fired shells into Sweida city
  • This was the first attack since 2015

BEIRUT: Rebel shellfire slammed into the southern Syrian city of Sweida on Tuesday for the first time in three years, a monitor said, as fresh regime reinforcements arrived in the area.
The government holds most of Sweida province, but rebels still control much of the nearby Daraa and Quneitra governorates.
On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said opposition forces fired shells into Sweida city, “which led to loud blasts but no casualties.”
“It is the first time since 2015 that the city has been subjected to shellfire,” said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.
State news agency SANA also blamed rebels “spread out in the towns and villages in eastern parts of Daraa province” for firing shells on Sweida.
It also said one girl was killed and two people were wounded in opposition fire on government-held parts of Daraa city.
Sweida, whose residents are mostly from the Druze minority, has remained relatively insulated from seven years of war that ravaged the rest of the country.
But rebels hold a sliver of territory in western Sweida that borders their main bastion in the province of Daraa, and clashes and exchanges of fire have erupted in that area in recent days.
Syria’s government has set its sights on ousting rebels from the south and has been dispatching troops and equipment there for weeks.
Rebel commander Abu Hassan told AFP on Tuesday his units had seen the reinforcements and were on high alert.
“We are almost always mobilized. The joint operations room has upped its coordination to the highest level,” he said.
On Tuesday, the regime dropped new flyers on the rebel-held half of Daraa city, calling on residents to expel rebels, “like your brothers did in Eastern Ghouta and Qalamun,” referring to two areas near Damascus recently recaptured from the opposition.
Opposition fighters appeared to fear the regime would use Sweida’s civilian population as justification for the assault, and issued a message addressed to them on Tuesday.
“We call on our people in Sweida province not to serve as bait for the goals of the regime, sectarian militias from Iran, and Hezbollah, which are trying to occupy this land and divide its people,” they said in a statement.
But the government has also hinted a political settlement could be reached over the south’s fate.
“We have moved toward the south and we are giving the political process a chance,” Syrian President Bashar Assad said last week.
“If that doesn’t succeed, we have no other option but to liberate it by force.”
Assad has regained the upper hand since 2011, when protests erupted across the country demanding he step down.
Demonstrations then turned into an armed conflict that has killed more than 350,000 people, drawn in world powers, and given rise to militants like the Daesh group.
IS has been defeated across much of Syria but the militants hold a few positions in desert areas of Sweida, where it has clashed with government troops recently.
On Tuesday, eight regime forces were killed in clashes with Daesh in the area.