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Itamar settlers erect new illegal outpost

March 15, 2011 10:13 A.M. (Updated: March 16, 2011 12:13 P.M.)
NABLUS (Ma’an) -- Caravan homes were installed 500 meters outside the boundary of the Itamar settlement near Nablus on Tuesday morning, as grieving settlers installed an illegal outpost in memory of the slain members of the Fogel family.

Witnesses reported seeing dozens of settlers from the area gather on what is locally known as Silcon hill, a half kilometer east of Itamar.

An army spokesman said the settlers had a permit to demonstrate and he was unaware of any violent incident there. By late evening the village was quiet, the Israeli military and Palestinians told AFP.

Village council chief Qays Awwad told Ma’an that the lands on which the mobile homes were being installed were all privately owned by families in Awarta, the village closest to the settlement.

Awarta remains under military closure, in what some officials have called a process of collective punishment, in the wake of the murder of five Israeli settlers in Itamar on Friday. An unknown assailant entered the home and stabbed to death five members of the Fogel family, including two children and a three-month-old infant.

Israel has put its press under gag order and prohibited the publication of information about the investigation of the murders, which Israeli officials have said were carried out by at least one Palestinian militant as a "terrorist attack."

"The direction that's being examined, in general, is a terrorist attack," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

Ma'an revealed on Monday that investigators have questioned Thai workers in the settlement in relation to the killings.

No Palestinian faction has claimed to have carried out the attack. Palestinian leaders in Ramallah have condemned the killing of children, and the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Brigades released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying they "oppose the targeting of civilians and killing of children no matter what the pretext may be."

Outpost construction

In addition to the mobile homes installed outside Itamar, settlers were seen manning bulldozers west of the settlement's declared municipal boundary.

According to Yanoun mayor Rashid Murrar, the lands being bulldozed belong to residents of the city of Nablus. The mayor said settlers were driving the equipment and appeared to be preparing to set up greenhouses.

Officials from Israel's Civil Administration did not answer phone calls seeking comment on the construction of the new outpost or construction work near Yanoun.

The work comes following an announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netnayahu, who gave the okay for the construction of 500 more settlement units in retaliation for the murder of the Fogel family, though there have been no suspects identified.

One week earlier, Netanyahu introduced a law declaring that settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land would be demolished within the year. The same law retroactively legalized an estimated 97 settlements that Israel declared to be on "state land."

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention the construction of settlements on occupied lands is illegal. The UN, United States and international Quartet have expressed concern over the decision to ramp up settlement construction.

Britain meanwhile joined international condemnation of Israel's announcement it had approved 400 more settler homes on the West Bank, a decision taken within 24 hours of the Itamar killings.

"We have consistently made clear, including at the UN with France and Germany, that settlements are illegal, an obstacle to peace and a threat to a two-state solution," said a Foreign Office spokesman.

Awarta villagers say situation deteriorating

In Awarta, Awwad said door-to-door searches were continuing, and residents were prohibited from leaving their homes. Over 300 have been reported detained, including two members of the Palestinian security services and a village council official.

On Monday evening, staff from the Nablus governor's office were able to send four truckloads of food and humanitarian aid, as families say they are running out of reserve rations amid the continued closure.

Those injured by settlers in an attack on Monday night were treated by medics from the Medical Relief Committees, after long delays in coordinating permission for the medics to gain entry to the village.

Medical director in Nablus Ghassan Hamdan said coordination for the visit had to go through Israel's COGAT office.

According to independent journalist Lydia de Leeuw, ambulances waited at an Israeli military checkpoint set up outside the village for hours before being allowed to enter, and were prevented from accessing some patients including a one-year-old girl suffering an asthma attack.

Treatment was provided to those injured by settlers from Itamar, who threw rocks and bottles at Palestinian homes during a protest that turned violent as the group approached the village.

"Soldiers present did little to nothing to prevent the attack of the settlers, some of whom were armed," de Leew wrote, describing the use of military riot dispersal methods against villagers, including the firing of sound bombs and tear-gas canisters.

An Israeli military spokesman did not return calls seeking comment on the incident.

De Leew said women and children were moved to homes in the center of the village in an effort to protect them from further settler attacks.

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