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Israeli forces demolish 2 Palestinian homes in Qalandiya, injure 4 with live fire

July 4, 2016 11:17 A.M. (Updated: July 4, 2016 9:05 P.M.)
The walls of Issa Assaf's home after being demolished by Israeli forces, spray-painted with messages to the slain attacker by his family.
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces demolished two Palestinian homes overnight Sunday in the Qalandiya refugee camp, displacing at least six Palestinian refugees and sparking clashes in the densely populated West Bank camp which left four Palestinians injured by Israeli fire.

The punitive demolition was carried out against the Assaf and Abu Habsa families as punishment for stab attacks carried out by two young members of the families last year.

Israeli forces shot and injured four Palestinians with live fire when fierce clashes erupted after an Israeli convoy stormed the camp to begin demolishing the homes, locals told Ma’an.

Local sources said Israeli forces detained and proceeded to assault two young men after they were shot and injured.

Israeli forces fired tear gas canisters and stun grenades at ambulances to prevent them from entering the camp to evacuate the wounded, after the Palestinian Red Crescent received several emergency calls from inside the camp.

A spokesperson of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said rescue teams received a phone call about injuries in the quarry east of Qalandiya, but “Israeli forces prevented ambulances at gunpoint from accessing the area.”

Witnesses said Palestinian gunmen also exchanged fire with the Israeli soldiers. Locals estimated some 1,000 Israeli soldiers were deployed in the area, firing rubber-coated steel bullets in every direction as they moved inside the refugee camp.

An Israeli army statement confirmed that the demolitions took place "in accordance with government’s directives," adding that "multiple violent riots" occurred during the demolitions, with Palestinians throwing rocks and opening fire at Israeli forces.

"Forces called rioters to halt using riot dispersal means," the Israeli army added. "Upon the ongoing threat, forces fired live fire towards main instigators."

After an Israeli court rejected the appeals by the Assaf and Abu Habsa families to save their homes, UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, expressed their “grave concern" over the Israeli authorities’ plans to carry out the punitive act, as Israeli raids into Qalandiya are often followed by violent confrontation in the camp’s narrow streets.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness condemned the demolitions, calling them “collective punishment” and a breach of international law in a statement on Monday.

“Punitive home demolitions … inflict distress and suffering on those who have not committed the action which led to the demolition and they often endanger people and property in the vicinity,” Gunness said.

“UNRWA condemns punitive demolitions and reminds Israel, the occupying power, that under international humanitarian law it has an obligation to protect the occupied people and provide services.”

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

On December 23 at the Jaffa Gate of East Jerusalem’s Old City, Issa Assaf and Anan Abu Habsa, both 21, were shot dead by Israeli police after carrying out stab attacks that left one Israeli killed, 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 demolition 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.

After Israeli authorities notified the families on June 14 that they had five days to evacuate before the demolition, UNRWA -- who was monitoring the case -- said the families had been living in a state of “perpetual apprehension.”

UNRWA warned at the time that six Palestinian refugees were at risk of being left homeless.

In photographs taken at the Assaf home after the demolition, messages can be seen spray-painted on the wall in Arabic, presumably written by his family, which read: "Issa, you are a source of fear for them."

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 its 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.

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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