Israel turns swathes of occupied West Bank into ‘nature reserves’

A Palestinian youth looks out on the Jordan Valley near the West Bank city of Jericho. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 15 January 2020

Israel turns swathes of occupied West Bank into ‘nature reserves’

  • Sites are all located in what is know as Area C of the West Bank that includes the strategic Jordan Valley
  • Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said the Israeli-run reserves would be under the responsibility of the Jewish state’s Nature and Parks Authority

JERUSALEM: Israel’s defense minister Wednesday announced the creation of seven nature reserves in the occupied West Bank as part of efforts to maintain Israeli control, weeks before a general election.
The sites are all located in what is know as Area C of the West Bank that includes the strategic Jordan Valley, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in September he planned to annex.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, whose rightwing New Right party draws much of its support from Jewish settlers, said last week that the territory belonged to Israel and his goal was to annex it “within a short time.”
In his latest move, Bennett said the Israeli-run reserves would be “under the responsibility” of the Jewish state’s Nature and Parks Authority.
He also announced the expansion of 12 existing West Bank sites managed by the Israeli authority, including Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves between 1947 and 1956.
Bennett is seeking re-election in the March 2 elections, as part of a far-right alliance.
The Palestinian Authority was quick to condemn the latest move, accusing Bennett of “erecting a new colonial umbrella to fight the Palestinian presence in those areas.”
The Palestinian foreign ministry said it would lodge complaints over the “dangerous announcement” at the United Nations and in international courts.
According to Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, the designated reserves total about 13,000 acres (5,300 hectares), some 40 percent of it under private Palestinian ownership.
Under Israel laws regulating nature reserves, Palestinians would be forbidden to cultivate their own land, the NGO’s Hagit Ofran said.
“If it’s a nature reserve, then you can uproot their (Palestinians’) trees and tell them they need a special permit for any agricultural activity,” she told AFP.
“It will be easier now to evict Palestinians from there.”
Most of the international community consider settlements on occupied Palestinian land to be illegal.
Washington, however, bucked the consensus in November when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said settlements were “not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”


Syria Kurdish-led force launches new anti-Daesh campaign

Updated 05 June 2020

Syria Kurdish-led force launches new anti-Daesh campaign

  • Operations will focus on the vast east Syria desert near the border with Iraq

BEIRUT: US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria announced Friday a fresh campaign to hunt down remnants of the Daesh group near the Iraqi border following a recent uptick in attacks.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led paramilitary alliance that has spearheaded the ground fight against Daesh in Syria since 2015, said that the new campaign is being carried out in coordination with the Iraqi army and the US-led coalition.
“This campaign will target ISIS’s hideouts and hotbeds,” it said, using a different acronym for the militant group.
It said operations will focus on the vast east Syria desert near the border with Iraq where Daesh has conducted a spate of attacks in recent months.
Since the loss of its last territory in Syria in March 2019, Daesh attacks have been restricted to the vast desert that stretches from the heavily populated Orontes valley in the west all the way to Iraqi border.
It regularly targets SDF forces and has vowed to seek revenge for the defeat of its so-called “caliphate”.
The SDF, with backing from its coalition allies, launched a campaign to hunt down sleeper cells after it forced Daesh militants out of their last Syrian redoubt in the desert hamlet of Baghouz in March 2019.
A raid in October by US special forces killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant group which once controlled large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria.
Last month, the United Nations accused the Daesh group and others in Syria of exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to step up violence on civilians, describing the situation as a “ticking time-bomb”.
Across the border in Iraq, Daesh has exploited a coronavirus lockdown, coalition troop withdrawals and simmering political disputes to ramp up attacks.
Iraq declared Daesh defeated in late 2017 but sleeper cells have survived in remote northern and western areas, where security gaps mean the group wages occasional attacks.
They have spiked since early April as militants plant explosives, shoot up police patrols and launch mortar and rocket fire at villages.