Largest Palestinian displacement in decades looms after Israeli court ruling

Israeli security forces surround demonstrators raising Palestinian flags, as Palestinian, left-wing, Israeli and foreign activists gather to protest against a High Court decision to evict Palestinian communities from Fire Zone 918, on June 10, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 12 June 2022

Largest Palestinian displacement in decades looms after Israeli court ruling

  • Israel says West Bank area not permanently inhabited
  • Palestinian farmers, shepherds claim historic ties to land

MASAFER YATTA, West Bank: Some 1,200 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank region of Masafer Yatta face the risk of forced removal to make way for an army firing zone after a decades-long legal battle that ended last month in Israel’s highest court.
The ruling opened the way for one of the largest displacements since Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Middle East war. But residents are refusing to leave, hoping their resilience and international pressure will keep Israel from carrying out the evictions.
“They want to take this land from us to build settlements,” said Wadha Ayoub Abu Sabha, a resident of Al-Fakheit, one of a group of hamlets where Palestinian shepherds and farmers claim a historic connection to the land.
“We’re not leaving,” she said.
In the 1980s, Israel declared the area a closed military zone known as “Firing Zone 918.” It argued in court that these 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) along the Israel-West Bank boundary were “highly crucial” for training purposes and that the Palestinians living there were only seasonal dwellers.
“It has been a year of immense grief,” said Abu Sabha, her voice breaking as she sat in one of the few tents left standing, lit by a single light bulb.
The communities in this part of the South Hebron Hills traditionally lived in underground caves. Over the past two decades, they have also started building tin shacks and small rooms above ground.
Israeli forces have been demolishing these new constructions for years, Abu Sabha said, but now that they have the court’s backing, the evictions are likely to pick up.
Steps away, her family’s belongings were reduced to a pile of rubble after soldiers arrived with bulldozers to raze some of the structures. She lamented the significant losses — the dwindling livestock even more than the destroyed furniture.
Much of the argument during the protracted case centered on whether the Palestinians who live across the area are permanent residents or seasonal occupants.
The Supreme Court concluded that the residents “failed to prove their claim of permanent habitation” before the area was declared a firing zone. It relied on aerial photos and excerpts from a 1985 book that both sides cited as evidence.
The book, titled “Life in the Caves of Mount Hebron,” was authored by Israeli anthropologist Yaacov Havakook, who spent three years studying the lives of Palestinian farmers and shepherds in Masafer Yatta.
Havakook declined to comment and instead referred Reuters to his book. But he said he had tried to submit an expert opinion on behalf of the residents following a request from one of their lawyers, and was prevented from doing so by the Israeli defense ministry, where he was employed at the time.

INTERNATIONAL CRITICISM
The United Nations and European Union condemned the court ruling and urged Israel to stop the demolitions and evictions.
“The establishment of a firing zone cannot be considered an ‘imperative military reason’ to transfer the population under occupation,” the EU spokesperson said in a statement.
In a transcript of a 1981 ministerial meeting on settlements uncovered by Israeli researchers, then-Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, who later became prime minister, suggested the Israeli military expand training zones in the South Hebron Hills to dispossess the Palestinian residents of their land.
“We want to offer you more training zones,” Sharon said, given “the spread of Arab villagers from the hills toward the desert.”
The Israeli military told Reuters the area was declared a firing zone for “a variety of relevant operational considerations” and that Palestinians violated the closure order by building without permits over the years.
According to the United Nations, the Israeli authorities reject most Palestinian applications for building permits in “Area C,” a swathe of land making up two-thirds of the West Bank where Israel has full control and where most Jewish settlements are located. In other areas of the West Bank, Palestinians exercise limited self-rule.
UN data also showed that Israel has marked nearly 30 percent of Area C as military firing zones. The designations have put 38 of the most vulnerable Palestinian communities at increased risk of forced displacement.
Meanwhile, settlements in the area have continued to expand, further restricting Palestinian movement and the space available for residents to farm and graze their sheep and goats.
“All of these olives are mine,” said Mahmoud Ali Najajreh of Al-Markez, another hamlet at risk, pointing to a grove in the near distance. “How can we leave?“
The 3,500 olive trees he planted two years ago — he counted each one — were beginning to bud.
“We will wait for the dust to settle, then build again,” Najajreh told Reuters. “We would rather die than leave here.”

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Italian far-right activists held for assault on Morocco soccer fans

Updated 07 December 2022

Italian far-right activists held for assault on Morocco soccer fans

  • The supporters were revelling in the centre of the northern Italian city on Tuesday evening after Morocco's victory over Spain
  • Fans were attacked by a group of men dressed in black with their faces covered, police said

ROME: Italian police said on Wednesday they had detained 13 far-right activists in Verona for an assault on Moroccan soccer fans who were celebrating their historic qualification for the World Cup quarter-finals.
The supporters were revelling in the center of the northern Italian city on Tuesday evening after Morocco’s victory over Spain when they were attacked by a group of men dressed in black with their faces covered, the police said in a statement.
Those held “were identified by investigators as militants of far-right groups in the city,” it said.
Morocco’s World Cup progress has seen vibrant celebrations by its supporters in cities with large Moroccan immigrant populations around the world, which have sometimes turned violent.
Their victory over Belgium in the group stage sparked riots in Brussels, and on Tuesday evening video footage showed fans lighting flares and throwing furniture and other objects in the center of Milan.
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant League party, tweeted the images of the Milan episodes, saying he hoped those responsible would be identified and made to pay for the damage to property.
He did not comment on the incidents in Verona.


US to ban Sudan officials who hold up post-coup transition

Updated 07 December 2022

US to ban Sudan officials who hold up post-coup transition

  • The ban would also apply to immediate family members of any current or former officials targeted
  • The State Department did not list who would be affected

WASHINGTON: The United States said Wednesday it would bar visas to any current or former Sudanese officials who hold up a transition to democracy, hoping to boost a tentative deal between the military and civilians.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced US support for the initial agreement announced Monday, which some pro-democracy protesters see as falling short on specifics and timelines.
“Recognizing the fragility of democratic transitions, the United States will hold to account spoilers — whether military or political actors — who attempt to undermine or delay democratic progress,” Blinken said in a statement.
The ban would also apply to immediate family members of any current or former officials targeted. The State Department did not list who would be affected.
“We once again call on Sudan’s military leaders to cede power to civilians, respect human rights and end violence against protesters,” Blinken said.
“At the same time, we urge representatives of Sudan’s civilian leaders to negotiate in good faith and place the national interest first.”
Longtime dictator Omar Al-Bashir was ousted in April 2019 following massive youth-led protests but the army chief, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, in October last year derailed the transition by carrying out a military coup.
The United States following the coup suspended $700 million in aid that was meant to help Sudan cope economically as it moves toward democracy.
The latest US step is an expansion of visa restrictions imposed during the first stage of Sudan’s democratic transition.

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Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

Updated 06 December 2022

Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

  • An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer
  • The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies

BEIRUT: Commercial brakes produced by a Dutch company to be used in ambulances in Turkiye instead ended up in missiles used by Turkiye in attacks in northeastern Syria, a report released Tuesday said.
Between September 2021 and June 2022, field investigators with London-based Conflict Armament Research analyzed the remnants of 17 air-to-surface missiles used in strikes in northeast Syria, the report said. An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer.
The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies, among them electromagnetic brakes with “markings and characteristics consistent with production by (Netherlands-based company) Kendrion NV,” the report said.
Representatives of Kendrion told researchers that the company had agreed in 2018 to supply 20-25,000 brakes to a Turkish company called FEMSAN, with the stated purpose of using them on blood analysis machines fitted to ambulances, the report said. After being notified that the brakes were being used in military applications, Kendrion said it had cut off its business relationship with the Turkish company, the report noted.
FEMSAN did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while representatives of Roketsan could not be reached for comment.
The research was carried out before the most recent round of Turkish airstrikes in northeast Syria, launched last month in response to a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups based in Syria — an allegation that the groups deny. Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also threatened a ground incursion.
The report did not allege that the sellers of the components used in the missiles had violated any laws, noting that “while the EU has had an arms embargo related to Syria itself since 2011, (Turkiye) has never been subject to sanctions at the multilateral level.”
It added that the case “highlights both the critical importance and the relative complexity of commercial due diligence for material of these types” which “may serve multiple purposes, some of which the manufacturer may not even be aware, and which may be extremely sensitive.”


Al Jazeera files lawsuit against Israeli forces at ICC over killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

Updated 06 December 2022

Al Jazeera files lawsuit against Israeli forces at ICC over killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

  • Case follows an investigation into journalist’s killing by news network’s legal team
  • Israeli Prime Minister says that no one would be allowed to question Israeli soldiers

DUBAI: Al Jazeera on Tuesday said it has filed a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court against Israeli forces over the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot during an Israeli raid in the West Bank in May.

The lawsuit follows an investigation by the television news network’s legal team, Al Jazeera said on Twitter.

The ICC must identify the individuals who were directly involved in Abu Akleh’s killing, Al Jazeera lawyer Rodney Dixon KC told a news conference in The Hague on Tuesday.

“The rulings of the International Criminal Court stipulate that those responsible be investigated and held accountable. Otherwise, they bear the same responsibility as if they were the ones who opened fire,” Dixon said.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday that no one would question Israeli soldiers.

“No one will interrogate IDF soldiers and no one will preach to us about morals of combat, certainly not the Al Jazeera network,” Lapid said.


Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

Updated 06 December 2022

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

  • Another 11 people, including 3 children, were handed lengthy jail terms

TEHRAN: Iran has sentenced to death five people over the killing of a member of the Basij paramilitary force during nationwide protests, the judiciary said Tuesday.
Another 11 people, including three children, were handed lengthy jail terms over the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a news conference, adding the sentences could be appealed.
A group of 15 people had been charged with “corruption on earth” over the death of Ajamian on November 3 in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported last week.
Prosecutors said Ajamian, 27, was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi, during ceremonies marking 40 days since her death.
Najafi was killed during unrest that has gripped Iran since the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code for women.
Initially, on November 12, Mizan Online announced charges for 11 people over Ajamian’s killing, including a woman but as the trial opened, it said 15 defendants in the case had been charged.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of members of the security forces.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have been arrested, including 40 foreigners and prominent actors, journalists and lawyers.
The latest court rulings bring to 11 the number of people sentenced to death in Iran over the violence sparked by Amini’s death.

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