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.


Germany wants trial for Syria militants but warns of difficulties

Updated 49 min 13 sec ago
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Germany wants trial for Syria militants but warns of difficulties

  • ‘We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible’
  • The minister noted that there is ‘no government in Syria with which we have a sensible relationship’

BERLIN: Germany vowed Monday to prosecute German Daesh fighters but warned that it would be “extremely difficult” to organize the repatriation of European nationals from Syria, after US President Donald Trump called on allies to take back alleged militants.
Syria’s US-backed Kurdish forces, which are battling Daesh group militants in their last redoubt in eastern Syria, hold hundreds of suspected foreign Daesh fighters and the calls for their reluctant home countries to take them back have grown in urgency.
“We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible,” Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told Bild daily.
Underlining the difficulties however of putting the ex-fighters on trial, the minister noted that there is “no government in Syria with which we have a sensible relationship.”
President Bashar “Assad cannot be our counterpart, the Syrian-democratic forces are not a unity government,” she added, stressing that proof and witness statements needed to be secured in Syria if the militants are to be put on trial.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said separately that a return could only be possible if “we can guarantee that these people can be immediately sent here to appear in court and that they will be detained.”
For this, “we need judicial information, and this is not yet the case,” Maas told ARD television late Sunday. Under such conditions a repatriation would be “extremely difficult to achieve.”
Berlin wants to “consult with France and Britain ... over how to proceed,” he said.
The subject is to be raised on Monday at a meeting of European foreign ministers called to discuss among other issues “the situation in Syria, in particular the recent developments on the ground,” according to an agenda for the talks.
Trump on Sunday called on his European allies to take back alleged militants captured in Syria.
Daesh imposed a self-declared caliphate across parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq from 2014, but has since lost all of it except a tiny patch of less than half a square kilometer near the Iraqi border.
After years of fighting Daesh, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hold hundreds of foreigners accused of fighting for the group, as well as their wives and children.
Syria’s Kurds have repeatedly called for their countries of origin to take them back, but these nations have been reluctant.
“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 Daesh fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump said in a tweet.
After initial reluctance, Paris appears ready to consider the return of its nationals.
In Belgium, Justice Minister Koen Geens called for a “European solution” on Sunday, calling for “calm reflection and looking at what would be the least security risks.”