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PA ministry condemns Israeli plans to restrict Palestinian access to Ain al-Haniyeh

Dec. 21, 2016 4:46 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 21, 2016 9:07 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly condemned Israel’s plans to relocate the al-Walaja permanent checkpoint between the occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem and Jerusalem further into Palestinian territory in a statement released Wednesday, calling upon UNESCO and other international organizations to intervene and prevent the annexation of Palestinian land.

On Tuesday, Israeli media reported that Israeli authorities were planning on moving the checkpoint before a natural spring in al-Walaja, known as Ain al-Haniyeh, which would cut off Palestinian access to the area and isolate several hundred acres of privately owned Palestinian land in the outskirts of the village.

The Ain al-Haniyeh spring is near land which has been set aside for a visitors’ center for an Israeli national park expected to consume large tracts of Palestinian land in al-Walaja.

The ministry demanded in the statement that Israeli authorities reverse the decision to take over the lands, while “guaranteeing the safety” for Palestinians who want to access Ain al-Haniyeh and their lands around the area.

The ministry also called upon international organizations, particularly UNESCO, to immediately intervene to protect Palestinian historical areas from Israeli attempts at “Judaization” and annexation, and added that it would form a Palestinian delegation at UNESCO to present an urgent protest to the organization about Israeli annexation plans.

The ministry would demand that UNESCO uphold its responsibility to protect Palestinian lands from Israeli aggression, and noted that Palestinian authorities would be exploring all available legal and international avenues to challenge Israel’s plans to move the checkpoint.

Ain al-Haniyeh has long been a popular site for Palestinians, especially residents in the Bethlehem area, and has maintained an important religious significance to Christians, as Christian monks frequent the site and bathe in the freshwater spring.

Local Palestinian shepherds also rely on the fresh spring to refresh their sheep while herding in the area.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, arguments have been ongoing in Israel over the past few weeks over how far into Palestinian territory authorities should move the checkpoint, with some Israeli officials saying that the checkpoint should be set up directly before Ain al-Haniyeh and others arguing that it should be relocated even further into Palestinian territory.

The checkpoint is currently a kilometer and a half after Ain al-Haniyeh.

Israeli authorities will also resume construction of the separation wall around al-Walaja, including a section which would isolate the privately held land in Ain al-Haniyeh, making the site inaccessible to local residents, according to Haaretz.

Residents of al-Walaja have lost over three-quarters of their land since Israel was established in 1948, when most of the village’s residents became refugees. During Israel’s takeover and subsequent occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, 50 percent of al-Walaja’s lands were annexed to the Jerusalem municipality.

Israel’s separation wall will encircle al-Walaja upon completion, and swathes of land have been appropriated by the Israeli government for the construction and expansion of the illegal Israeli settlements of Gilo, Har Gilo, and Givat Yael, while Israel’s checkpoints and separation wall has left a single entrance to al-Walaja connecting it to the rest of the West Bank.
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