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Israel evacuates hundreds of Palestinians to conduct army training

Nov. 9, 2012 3:29 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 12, 2012 10:50 A.M.)
TUBAS (Ma'an) -- Hundreds of Palestinians are being evacuated from the northern Jordan Valley to make way for an Israeli military training exercise, local officials told Ma'an.

Villagers received orders this week from the Israeli army to leave their homes for the duration of the exercise, which begins on Sunday.

Aqaba and Yarza village council head Mukhlas Masaid told Ma'an on Wednesday that Ein al-Hilweh, Yarza, Ras al-Ahmar, al-Malih and al-Meiteh villages received orders, displacing a population of 1,000.

Al-Malih and al-Madareb council chief Aref Daraghmeh said 57 families in al-Hamamat, al-Burj and Humsa received the orders.

Further south, 40 families in the Jordan Valley village Khirbet Tana also received orders this week to evacuate while the army conducts training.

Daraghmeh said some families would be permitted to return after a two-day exercise, while others were told to leave their homes permanently.

He said several Israeli departments were working together to pressure Palestinians to leave the Jordan Valley in order to build Jewish settlements and military bases.

Al-Malih resident Abu Mohammad told Ma'an that despite living in the village for decades, he would leave out of fear for his safety. His house had been hit by Israeli artillery before, he said.

Researcher for the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem Juliet Bannoura said the latest evacuation was part of a campaign since 1967 to remove Palestinians from the Jordan Valley, most of which is designated a closed military zone.

"This is a trick in order to execute a silent and final evacuation," Bannoura told Ma'an.

"Now Israel is completing building of the separation wall in the west, they want to work on the eastern side as well," she said.

A Ma'an reporter witnessed an influx of forces and military equipment into the region.

Settlement monitoring official Ahmad Assad suspected the huge scale and length of the training indicated it was related to joint Israeli-US operations.

Over 3,500 US military personnel arrived in Israel in late October to conduct a joint training exercise hailed as "the largest-ever ballistic missile defense exercise between our nations" by Pentagon spokesman Jack Miller. Austere Challenge 12 is scheduled to run for three weeks.

The Israeli military did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says Israel has designated around 18 percent of the West Bank as closed military zones, an area roughly equal in size to Area A, the 17.7 percent of the West Bank under Palestinian Authority control.

Around 5,000 Palestinians live in Israeli military firing zones in the West Bank, UNOCHA says. Since 2010, Israel has demolished the homes of 820 Palestinians located in firing zones.

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