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UN 'gravely concerned' over imminent home demolitions in Palestinian refugee camp

June 26, 2016 6:12 P.M. (Updated: June 27, 2016 3:07 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The United Nations warned against imminent punitive home demolitions targeting Palestinian families in Qalandiya refugee camp in the central occupied West Bank, putting at least six Palestinian refugees at risk of being left homeless.

UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, said in a statement on Saturday that it was “gravely concerned” about the Israeli High Court of Justice’s recent rejection of the families’ appeal to save their homes.

“The families are in a state of perpetual apprehension as they wait for implementation of the punitive demolition which could occur at any undefined time,” the statement read.

The families were notified on June 14 that they had five days to evacuate, after Israeli authorities ruled their homes would be destroyed as punishment for stab attacks carried out by two young members of the families on December 23 at the Jaffa Gate of East Jerusalem’s Old City.

The two 21-year-old Palestinians, Issa Assaf and Anan Abu Habsa, were shot dead by Israeli police on the scene.

The attacks left one Israeli killed and another seriously injured, while a third Israeli was accidentally shot by friendly fire and later succumbed to his wounds.

According to Israeli media, the justices in the hearing argued that Assaf and Abu Habsa’s killings did not constitute adequate punishment for their actions. The media reports did not mention whether the families were linked in any way to the attacks.

The court also reportedly rejected claims that Israel’s practice of home demolitions discriminates between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis who carry out attacks.

“UNRWA remains concerned that six Palestinian refugees are at risk of being made homeless as a result of the punitive demolitions. Further, although the Court stated the demolition of the home located in the most crowded area should not involve explosives, it could impact other neighboring structures.”

The UN agency’s statement noted that 19 Palestinians were displaced and 46 others were affected during a Nov. 16 punitive demolition in the same camp, and two Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during the clashes that erupted during the operation.

UNRWA also reiterated in their statement that punitive demolitions are illegal under international law, and that it had most recently communicated its position to Israeli authorities in April 2016 in the context of court ruling regarding demolitions in Qalandiya refugee camp.

The Qalandiya refugee camp has been a focal point of violence since a wave of unrest swept the occupied Palestinian territory last October. At least 15 of the camp's residents have been killed, either while attacking Israelis or during clashes.

Israeli soldiers have routinely carried out raids into the camp's narrow streets, often leading to violent clashes. In March, two Palestinians were shot and fatally wounded when two soldiers allegedly stumbled into the camp by accident, as the Israeli army flooded the camp with troops searching for them.

Qalandiya saw another punitive home demolition in October, carried out on the home of a young resident who had shot and killed an Israeli hiker near a spring outside Ramallah.

Punitive home demolitions were expedited at the request of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in mid-October, and many have been carried out across the occupied Palestinian territory since.

The move came despite past recommendations by an Israeli military committee that the practice did not deter attacks. Israeli rights group B’Tselem has condemned the practice as "court sanctioned revenge" carried out on family members who have not committed crimes, amounting to collective punishment.

According to UN documentation, a total of 30 punitive demolitions were carried out in 2015 and 2016, displacing and rendering homeless 243 Palestinians, including 42 Palestinian refugees.
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