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Israel besieges Bethlehem villages in search of stabbing suspect

Dec. 24, 2016 1:40 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 25, 2016 12:04 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces continued to crackdown on Palestinian villages in the southern occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem on Saturday, in search for a man who allegedly stabbed and lightly injured a settler in the illegal Israeli settlement of Efrat southwest of Bethlehem Friday night.

According to the Israeli army, a Palestinian infiltrated a settler home in Efrat, stabbed an Israeli man, and fled from the scene.

According to Israeli media outlet Ynet, the 50-year-old man sustained light injuries in his back and neck.

There was a heavy presence of Israeli soldiers in several areas across Bethlehem that continued into Saturday morning, with reports of clashes erupting between Palestinians and Israeli forces overnight Friday.

Locals in the village of Wadi Rahhal -- located just a hundred meters east of the Efrat settlement and also known as Khirbet Abdullah Ibrahim -- told Ma'an Friday that dozens of Israeli military vehicles stormed the village in the evening and conducted a house-to-house search, as Israeli helicopters hovered overhead.

An eyewitness told Ma'an via telephone on Saturday that while Israeli troops left Wadi Rahhal Saturday morning after searching the entire village, military checkpoints were installed at all roads connecting the village to Bethlehem and neighboring villages.

Some residents, he said, were forced to commute to work on foot by hiking through fields due to the Israeli road blocks.

Israeli news sites also mentioned that Israeli forces set up checkpoints outside of the town of Beit Fajjar and the al-Arrub refugee camp a few kilometers further south.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an they were looking into the case.

The occupied West Bank saw an increase in military road closures since October 2015 when a wave of unrest erupted across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, leading to periodic closures of Palestinian villages, towns, checkpoints, and entire districts.

While the violence has largely been characterized by small-scale attacks by Palestinians against uniformed Israeli soldiers and police, a number of attackers have targeted Israeli settlers by infiltrating their homes.

Rights groups estimate the settler population in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to be between 500,000 to 600,000, all of whom reside in 196 illegal Israeli settlements in direct violation of international law. The overwhelming majority of the United Nations Security Council affirmed the illegality of settlements in a new resolution passed Friday night.

Israel’s response to attacks and alleged attacks have been condemned by rights groups, who have said such measures amount to “collective punishment” and represent a clear violation of international law.

In July, the entire district of Hebron was was put under a military closure amid a massive manhunt for the suspect responsible for a shooting attack which left an Israeli man dead.

The manhunt was concluded when the gunman was killed after Israeli forces bombarded and destroyed a house while he was inside, by firing anti-tank missiles at the house and ultimately razing it to the ground with bulldozers.

Israeli forces also detained scores Palestinians residents in nightly raids amid the manhunt, restricted movement for tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians living in the Hebron area, and revoked Israeli travel permits for some 2,700 people.

The closures on Hebron saw the most widespread restrictions on movement in the occupied West Bank in two years.

Meanwhile, restrictions in Bethlehem came as Palestinians in the holy city marked the occasion of Christmas. On Friday Israeli forces suppressed Bethlehem’s “Santa Claus March,” shooting tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at participants.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas released a statement Friday saying that “Despite the Israeli occupation, our presence in our homeland and the preservation of our cultural and national heritage are the most important form of resistance in the face of the darkness of a foreign colonialist occupying power.”
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