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Palestinian commuters in Yatta race against Israeli bulldozers to find way out of siege

July 11, 2016 6:07 P.M. (Updated: July 12, 2016 12:50 P.M.)
A makeshift road excavated by locals in the blockaded village of Yatta (MaanImages/Bassam Rumi)
HEBRON (Ma’an) -- Residents of the town of Yatta south of the city of Hebron have been forced to commute via rugged dirt roads for eleven consecutive days, as Israeli forces continued to block all exits and side roads connecting the town to the rest of occupied West Bank, amid heavy Israeli presence across the district of Hebron and blockades imposed on at least two other villages of the district.

A Ma’an reporter in Yatta on Monday morning said that searching for a path to leave the town took almost two hours of trial and error.

Residents have been calling ahead to neighbors to see what route they used to connect to the main road earlier that day, only to find the path already blocked off by rocks and earth mounds by the time they reached it -- and locals would start to spread the word about other open paths, which have been built on the fly by locals amid the Israeli siege.

“The people of Yatta are in a race against Israeli bulldozers,” the Ma’an reporter said.

Israeli forces imposed a general closure on Hebron, the largest and most populous district in the occupied West Bank, amid a widespread manhunt for gunmen in two shooting incident in the district.

In the wake of a fatal shooting attack near the illegal Israeli settlement of Otniel in Hebron on July 1, Yatta was sealed. The attack occurred within 48 hours of a deadly stabbing attack and an alleged attack carried out by residents of the village of Bani Naim who were immediately shot dead.

Bani Naim has also been completely sealed.

On Saturday night, an Israeli was shot and injured in his car near the Hebron-area settlement Teqoa, after which the village of Sair was also placed under blockade.

An exit road in Yatta blocked off by Israeli forces with rocks (MaanImages/Bassam Rumi)

The northern entrance to Yatta was sealed with concrete blocks, while the road linking to Hebron was closed with an iron gate. The exit from Route 60 -- the main highway used by both Israeli settlers and Palestinians -- to al-Fawwar refugee camp, which continues to Yatta, was closed as well.

Furthermore, all roads and side roads between Yatta and al-Samu south of Yatta have also been closed.

As a result, residents who urgently needed to enter and leave the town have been rushing to carve out new roads either manually or using excavators as quickly as possible before Israeli forces arrived to stop them.

The town of Yatta has a population of about 64,277, but an estimated 120,000 Palestinians depend on the municipality, taking into account the surrounding villages.

A traffic jam in Yatta, as locals attempt to find a way out of the besieged town (MaanImages/Bassam Rumi)

According to Nasser Nammura, the director of the Yatta office in the Palestinian Ministry of Labor, Yatta’s economy is largely dependent on labor in Israel, and at least 22,000 Yatta residents work in Israel.

Some of 6,000 workers have work permits, thousands others have special permits to work in Israeli settlements across the occupied West Bank, while others work without documentation, Nammura said.

According to the ministry’s figures, Israel issued 12,727 work permits in the West Bank in June, of which 12 percent (1,500 permits) have been given to workers from Yatta. He added that 18 percent of Yatta’s population work in Israel, including those who do not have work permits.

Tens of thousands of Palestinian workers are forced to seek a living by working in Israel due to crippling unemployment in the West Bank, as the growth of an independent Palestinian economy has been stifled under the ongoing Israeli military occupation, according to rights groups.

In the wake of attacks committed by Palestinians on Israeli targets, Israel often revokes permits of Palestinian civilians en masse, in what rights groups have branded as a policy of “collective punishment” and illegal under international law.

Israeli authorities revoked 83,000 permits for Palestinians residing the occupied West Bank to visit Jerusalem and Israel for the holy month of Ramadan in the wake of a shooting attack in Tel Aviv in June, and also revoked travel permits to Israel for some 2,700 residents of Bani Naim amid the manhunt for the gunmen responsible for the July 1 shooting.
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