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Israel to release 4 protesters arrested at Negev demo

July 17, 2013 8:50 P.M. (Updated: July 18, 2013 3:06 P.M.)
BEERSHEBA (Ma'an) -- An Israeli court on Wednesday ordered the release of four protesters who were arrested Monday at a demonstration against a government plan to resettle Bedouin.

Israeli police arrested 15 protesters at the demonstration in Beersheba, as protests were held around Israel to denounce the Prawer Plan.

A court in Beersheba ordered the release of Mufeed Abu Sweilim, Roaya al-Hzayyil, Kareem Shahadeh and Ibrahim al-Sane on Wednesday.

Hundreds of tribesmen and women joined the march in Beersheba. Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of the Knesset, said police used force at the protest.

"We called for a peaceful protest in which more than 1,000 people took part but the police used force. They tried to beat a girl with clubs but when I tried to protect her they beat me up as well," Zahalka told AFP.

Organizers said the overall number of protesters who took to the streets in Beersheba, the southern Negev desert region, Galilee in the north and Jaffa near Tel Aviv could have been in the thousands.

The resettlement plan was approved by the government in January and by the parliament in a first reading in June. Two more votes are expected.

The plan call for the relocation of 30,000-40,000 Bedouin, the demolition of about 40 villages and the confiscation of more than 700,000 dunams (70,000 hectares) of land in the Negev.

The government has said it would "as much as possible" grant legal status to Negev villages that are currently unrecognized by the authorities if they met a minimum population criteria.

But those criteria have never been stated.

A cabinet statement has said "most" residents -- who do not currently receive government or municipal services -- would be able to continue living in their homes after the villages are granted legal status.

There are about 260,000 Bedouin in Israel, mostly living in and around the Negev in the arid south.

More than half live in unrecognized villages without utilities and many also live in extreme poverty.
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