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Aid groups appeal to Quartet to halt demolitions

Sept. 21, 2012 11:10 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 23, 2012 10:39 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The international Quartet of Middle East negotiators must take immediate action to stop 13 Palestinian villages from being destroyed and evacuated in south Hebron, a group of 30 international organizations said Friday.

The rare appeal comes after several development agencies received demolition or stop work orders for aid projects in the area.

Oxfam said it was given notice by Israeli authorities that it is not permitted to enter the villages to continue its development projects.

The Quartet -- comprising the UN, US, European Union and Russia -- was established in 2002 with a mandate to improve conditions for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinian leaders have increasingly questioned its relevance as the Israeli settler population in the occupied West Bank continues to grow, and with no prospect of peace talks on the horizon.

The coalition of aid and rights groups urged the negotiators to take concrete measures to press Israel to abide by international law when it meets in New York on Monday.

“The Quartet has issued 39 statements condemning the government of Israel’s violations of international law, yet the number of people displaced by unlawful demolition of Palestinian homes continues to increase at an unprecedented rate,” Country Director of Oxfam Nishant Pandey said.

The group notes that the demolitions have risen from a monthly average of 23 in 2009, to 64 in 2012.

Israeli military authorities announced in July they will evacuate eight Hebron villages in order to make space for a military firing zone, a measure which will leave 1,650 people homeless.

The aid groups say that five other neighboring villages are at risk of displacement as Israel has handed demolition orders to many of their homes.

Israeli firing zones take up around 18 percent of the West Bank, where 5,000 Palestinians live in 38 villages.

In total, Israel exercises full civil and security control over 60 percent of the West Bank. Israel says it only demolishes structures that are built illegally, while rights advocates say it is almost impossible for Palestinians to secure Israeli permits for even the most basic of structures.

International law experts say that under the Fourth Geneva Convention Israel must provide for the needs of the occupied Palestinian population, and are prohibited from demolishing any structure that has a civilian purpose.

The Israeli government holds the view that the West Bank is not under occupation, but has the status of "disputed territory", which limits the applicability of the provisions of international humanitarian law.

But after 62 European-funded development projects demolished by Israeli authorities in 2011, the aid groups are calling for leadership from the Quartet of negotiators.

"It’s time for the Quartet to stop the euphemisms: Israel's demolitions of Palestinian homes and other structures without military necessity violate its obligations as an occupying power,” Human Rights Watch Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said.
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