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Settler vandalism, harassment reported in south

March 28, 2011 1:39 P.M. (Updated: March 29, 2011 9:30 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Villagers said ultra-orthodox settlers chopped down dozens of fruit trees in fields belonging to a Palestinian farmer from the southern West Bank village of Husan, in the latest incident of apparent settler vandalism.

Jabir Taha Hamamra told Ma’an that he was surprised Monday morning when he walked into his fields to discover dozens of trees had been chopped down.

"I was in the fields on Thursday, and they were all fine," he said, pointing to the adjacent settlement of Betar Illit, "but I did notice that there were military vehicles in the area."

He took little notice, however, saying "there are military patrols almost every day," but then wondered if the patrols were in the area because of the settler activity.

Hamamra said 25 olive trees, two almond trees, one fig tree, and four walnut trees were destroyed by vandals.

It is not the first act of settler vandalism that targeted Hamamra's property, the farmer told Ma'an, recalling that in 2010 settlers destroyed a water well set up to collect rain water. "It was used to irrigate my plants, the ones near the settlement," he said.

Palestinian Authority official Awad Abu Swayy visited the field in Husan, and condemned the vandalism as another settler attack.

Swayy is charged with monitoring the settler activity in the area for the Ramallah-based ministry of agriculture.

"Settlers attack Palestinian land, people, trees and water reservoirs under the protection of the Israeli government, which means the government is complicit,” he said.

In Yatta, a collection of towns in the southern West Bank, dozens of settlers were reported to have assaulted a group of shepherds east of the population center.

Israeli military patrols were seen near the group, which gathered in the Al-Bweib agricultural area.

Area activist Rateb Al-Habour said the patrol cars did not intervene when the settlers harassed the farmers.

Azmi Ash-Shioukhy, Secretary General of Palestinian People's Committees in the town said the increased settler violence was part of an "Israeli tactic of ethnic cleansing."

Since the end of February, seven Palestinians have been injured by settler gunfire, two have been stabbed, two have been beaten, seven have been injured by stones, at least six cars have been torched, and dozens of acts of vandalism and harassment have been reported.

An escalation in violent attacks began after the Israeli government dismantled an illegal settlement outpost on February 28. Under a professed "price tag" policy, settlers make Palestinians "pay" for each evacuation of outposts. In the past, the "price" has included arson, shootings, beatings, burning fields, uprooting trees and poisoning water wells belonging to Palestinians.

Harassment and vandalism escalated further following the murder of five residents of Itamar settlement by unknown attackers on March 11. But many of the incidents causing hospitalization occurred before.
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