Israel indefinitely postpones demolition of Bedouin West Bank village

The Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, is seen decorated with Palestinian flags. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Israel indefinitely postpones demolition of Bedouin West Bank village

  • Israel had been making the preparations to expel the residents and demolish the village
  • The fate of Khan Al-Ahmar has drawn international concern, with European countries calling on Israel not to move ahead with plans to demolish it

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he has decided to postpone the planned demolition of a West Bank hamlet to allow time for a negotiated solution with its residents, in a move that appeared aimed at staving off the fierce international condemnation such a demolition would likely entail.
Israel has come under heavy criticism, with major European countries urging it to avoid the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor recently said such a move could constitute a war crime.
Israeli officials said alternative solutions have arrived in recent days from various sources and Netanyahu wanted to give them a chance. That sparked criticism from Netanyahu's hard-line coalition partners who are demanding decisive action. In response, Netanyahu clarified that the hamlet would be razed, and his delay was not open-ended.
"Khan al-Ahmar will be evacuated, it's a court ruling, that's our policy and it will be done," he said. "I have no intention of postponing this until further notice, contrary to reports, but rather for a short, defined period of time."
Netanyahu's Cabinet decided on Sunday to postpone the demolition by "a few weeks" to allow a negotiated settlement.
Israel says the Palestinian Bedouin encampment of corrugated shacks outside an Israeli settlement was illegally built in an unsafe location near a major highway. It has offered to resettle residents a few miles (kilometers) away in what it says are improved conditions — with connections to water, electricity and sewage treatment they currently lack. But critics say it's impossible for Palestinians to get building permits and that the demolition plan is meant to make room for the expansion of an Israeli settlement.
Israel's Supreme Court recently rejected a final appeal, paving the way for Khan al-Ahmar's demolition.
The encampment of 180 residents has become a rallying cry for Palestinians, who have staged large-scale protests at the site for the past few months. Much of the high-level European engagement derives from concerns that such demolitions could threaten the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state, at a time of already fading hopes for a two-state solution.
For the Palestinians, it is seen as part of a creeping annexation of territory they seek for a future state.
The village is in the 60 percent of the West Bank known as Area C, which remains under exclusive Israeli control and is home to dozens of Israeli settlements. Israel places restrictions on Palestinian development there and home demolitions are not unusual. As part of interim peace deals in the 1990s, the West Bank was carved up into autonomous and semi-autonomous Palestinian areas, known as Areas A and B, and Area C, which is home to some 400,000 Israeli settlers.
The Palestinians claim all the West Bank and say that Area C, home also to an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Palestinians, is crucial to their economic development.
Waleed Assaf, who heads the Palestinian department of settlement affairs, welcomed the Israeli announcement but said opposition would continue "until the Israelis completely revoke the demolition order."
"I think the international pressure, particularly from the EU, and the clear warning from the ICC that the removal of this West Bank hamlet amounts to a war crime prompted the new Israeli decision," he said.
Israel says the case of Khan al-Ahmar is a simple matter of law and order. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman made it clear he favors demolishing the hamlet without delay.
Naftali Bennett, head of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, adopted an even stronger tone.
"This is illegal building whose destruction was approved by the Supreme Court," he tweeted. "In a nation of laws, you enforce the law even if the international community objects and threatens.


Deadly attack on US forces leaves Syria town fearful for future

The residents of Manbij fear more Daesh attacks. (AFP)
Updated 16 min 37 sec ago
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Deadly attack on US forces leaves Syria town fearful for future

  • “We come to the market but we are afraid. We go to work and we are afraid... we don’t know what could happen,” says resident
  • The four Americans killed in the blast were two soldiers, a civilian defense department employee and a Pentagon subcontractor.

MANBIJ: Charred walls, shattered windows, uncooked kebabs still on the counter — the blast that hit US forces at this small restaurant in northern Syria has left residents fearful for the future.

Wednesday’s suicide bombing, claimed by Daesh, was the deadliest to hit US troops since they deployed to Syria in 2014.

Nineteen people, including four Americans, were killed in the attack on the grill house in the central market of the flashpoint northern town of Manbij.

“We come to the market but we are afraid. We go to work and we are afraid... we don’t know what could happen,” says Jomaa Al-Qassem, eyeing the shops from his car along with his three-year-old son.

In front of the blackened storefront, armed security forces hustle curious onlookers away and are quick to prevent them from taking photos with their cellphones.

Behind its twisted metal exterior, a clump of raw red meat lies abandoned on a counter, covered with dust. Tables and cookware from the kitchen have been twisted into a tangled mess on the floor.

Run by a Washington-backed town council since the US-led coalition and its ground partners pushed out militants in 2016, Manbij has been a realm of relative quiet. 

The town was considered sufficiently secure that a group of top US military commanders and lawmakers strolled through the same market place without body armor during a tour of the area last summer.

Next to the blast site, Abu Abdel Rahman lifts an armful of red teddy bears out of his storefront display, carefully avoiding the shattered glass.

Just meters away from the restaurant, his shop was also hit by the blast.

But the US military presence in the town has been thrown into question after President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month that he would pull all American troops from Syria, claiming the Daesh had been “largely defeated.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a longtime Trump supporter who was among this summer’s visitors, has been one of the most vocal critics of the president’s decision and was in Ankara for talks with top officials on Friday.

“I was at the door of my shop and saw a fireball come out of the restaurant. Then, there were body parts on the ground,” he told AFP, a red keffiyeh headscarf wrapped around his face to help fend off the cold winter air.

The four Americans killed in the blast were two soldiers, a civilian defense department employee and a Pentagon subcontractor.

The US Defense Department has previously reported only two American personnel killed in combat in Syria, in separate incidents.

The attack came as tensions between Washington’s Syrian Kurdish ground partner and its NATO ally Turkey flare.

Ankara views the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as a “terrorist offshoot” of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly insurgency for self-rule in southeastern Turkey since 1984.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened an all-out offensive to clear the group from its border.

At the town’s entrance, security checkpoints manned by forces of the US-backed Manbij Military Council meticulously check vehicles and the IDs of people entering and exiting the town. Regular patrols move through the streets.

But for Malek Al-Hassan, it is not enough.

The 45-year-old was in the market that day to buy books for his children.

“When the explosion happened, I don’t know how we managed to escape,” he says.

“We hope the forces will be more vigilant at the roadblocks, and that they will work hard to prevent these infiltrators from committing these acts of sabotage,” he says.

After sweeping across swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, the militants’ cross-border “caliphate” has been erased by multiple offensives and is now confined to a tiny embattled enclave in eastern Syria close to the Iraqi border.

But despite the stinging defeats, Daesh has proved it is still capable of carrying out deadly attacks using hideouts in the sprawling desert or sleeper cells in the towns.

One day after the blast, Naassan Dandan’s eyes well up with tears when he remembers the attack.

“I was outside when the explosion happened and was thrown to the ground,” says the man in his 40s, still clearing shards of glass from his nearby photography studio.

On the walls of his shop, child portraits he has taken throughout his career are covered in black dust.

“I saw the bodies — the dead and the wounded,” he says, as two young passers-by stop to lend a hand with the clean up.