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UNRWA condemns Israel's 'Christmas Eve demolitions' in the West Bank

Dec. 25, 2013 12:51 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 27, 2013 10:30 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The United Nations Palestine refugee agency on Wednesday condemned Israel's latest demolitions of Palestinian Bedouin homes in the West Bank, which UNRWA said displaced 68 people.

The latest demolitions in the West Bank, "the most recent of which occurred on Christmas Eve," have "severely threatened" the livelihoods of the families that lost their homes, UNRWA Spokesman Chris Gunnes said in a statement.

According to UNRWA, the demolitions that occurred near Ramallah and Jericho displaced 68 people in total, most of whom were refugees, and 32 of whom were children, "including a five year old girl who is paralyzed from the waist down."

The demolitions took place in Ein Ayoub, displacing 61, and in Fasayil al-Wusta displacing seven, Gunnes said.

"These are Bedouin communities who managed to weather the recent snow storms. Tents have been distributed by the Palestinian Red Crescent in coordination with the ICRC but this is hardly adequate considering night-time temperatures plunge to around zero. In addition, some 750 head of sheep and goats are without shelter at this crucial lambing season."

Gunnes said the home demolitions violated international law, and that they have forced communities who have historically been self sufficient to rely on international aid and "endure the pitiless seasonal weather in inadequate housing."

So far in 2013, at least 1,103 Palestinians have been displaced throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to UNRWA figures. Of that number, 34 percent are refugees.

Israeli Civil Administration has demolished "663 structures, including 259 residential units" in the West Bank this year.

"These demolitions are a common trigger of forced displacement and may amount to a forcible transfer and forced eviction under international humanitarian law and human rights law," Gunnes said.

"We call on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law, most particularly to ensure the humane treatment and protection of the civilian Palestinian population at all times, including through an immediate halt to administrative demolitions."

A spokesman for Israel's Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories -- the unit within Israel's Ministry of Defense that heads up home demolitions -- confirmed the recent demolitions.

"The structures at hand were illegal," the COGAT spokesman told Ma'an. "They had been built without a building permit."

Israel's High Court of Justice denied all petitions to keep the homes standing, he added.

He said the demolitions that UNRWA claimed took place in Ein Ayoub had actually taken place in Deir Ammar.

Israel rarely grants Palestinians permits to build in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. It has demolished at least 27,000 Palestinian homes and structures since occupying the West Bank in 1967, according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.

It is illegal under international law to demolish property in occupied territory.
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