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Israeli settlers level lands in northern West Bank

May 22, 2016 3:47 P.M. (Updated: May 23, 2016 5:23 P.M.)
NABLUS (Ma'an) -- Israeli settler bulldozers on Sunday continued to level agricultural lands in the northern occupied West Bank districts of Nablus and Salfit, locals said.

Witnesses from the village of Jalud in southern Nablus told Ma’an that bulldozers leveled land to expand the illegal Shvut Rachel settlement, where several units were being built.

Israeli authorities delivered notices to residents of Jalud in April, telling residents that 5,000 dunams (1,250 acres) of private land were slated for confiscation in what appeared to be the retroactive legalization of illegal outposts in the area. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had approved the retroactive “laundering” of construction of 94 illegal housing units in Shvut Rachel in October, according to rights group B’Tselem.

Witnesses added that Israeli settlers Sunday were also leveling land in an illegal outpost near the Shilo settlement inhabited by members of the Gaolat Etzion movement -- "the redemption of Zion" in Hebrew -- which believes all of historical Palestine should be part of a Jewish state of Israel.

A spokesperson for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) later responded to a requested for comment on Monday saying that the "illegal work efforts have been terminated. There will be an inspection tour and legal enforcement proceedings in accordance with law."

Meanwhile, in western Salfit, locals reported that settlers continued leveling lands to prepare for infrastructure to build hundreds of settlement units in the newly-recognized neighborhood of Leshem as a settlement unto itself, within the illegal Ariel bloc.

COGAT later told Ma'an in regards to leveling activities in Leshem that "There is a master plan in effect on state lands and the work there is legal." 

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported last week that the deputy director of the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division recognized Leshem as a new settlement altogether, and that the Israeli government had not already recognized it itself for “technical-political” reasons.

Leshem was originally meant to be a neighborhood in the nearby Ale Zahav settlement of the Ariel bloc.

Since 2012, construction of housing units in Leshem has been ongoing, under Israeli authorities’ plan to build 694 housing units on 495.8 dunams (122.5 acres) of land, according to the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ).

Local researcher in Salfit Khalid Maali told Ma’an on Sunday that such leveling works were carried out in dozens of sites in the occupied West Bank on a daily basis. He added that leveling works were being done in Salfit to expand 24 settlements in the area.

Maali pointed out that such settlement activities violate Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids the seizure or destruction of occupied lands.

Mounting international pressure on Israel, including demands to freeze new construction in settlements, has influenced the Israeli government to adopt an overt policy of approving settlement outposts and existing illegal construction in settlements, according to ARIJ.

Palestinian Authority officials have said that confiscation orders like those delivered in Jalud aim solely to expand illegal settlements, despite citing alleged security concerns.

Some 12 illegal settlements and 27 settlement outposts are located in the Nablus district. The UN in January warned Israeli authorities against legalizing the four outposts near Jalud, which have been widely acknowledged by the international community and Israel itself as a hotbed for both unlawful settlement activity and settler violence, to the detriment of Palestinian locals.

Israel has recently stepped up land confiscation in the occupied West Bank, with settlement watchdog Peace Now warning in March that Israel had not confiscated such large swathes of land for the purpose of settlement expansion since the pre-Oslo period in the 1980s.

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