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

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.


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 15 October 2019

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.