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Israeli forces, settlers prevent Hebron mayor from visiting Old City schools

Aug. 23, 2017 3:03 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 23, 2017 5:19 P.M.)
HEBRON (Ma'an) -- Israeli settlers verbally assaulted Mayor of Hebron Taysir Abu Sneina and physically blocked him from accessing a number of schools in Hebron's Old City in the southern occupied West Bank on Wednesday morning, as Israeli soldiers looked on and eventually forced the mayor to leave the area.

Abu Sneina was making the rounds, visiting schools in the city to inaugurate the beginning of the school year.

He told Ma'an that an "extremist Israeli settler called Ofer swore at me using repulsive words and threatened to kill me."

The same settler "gave instructions" to Israeli soldiers, demanding that they prevent the mayor from accessing the Old City and to escort him away at gunpoint.

Israeli soldiers then called for backup and forcibly evacuated Abu Sneina and a group of Palestinians that were in the area.

An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma'an to contact Israeli police for more information on the incident. An Israeli police spokesperson said they were unfamiliar with the confrontation.

Earlier on Wednesday, the mayor had visited a number of schools elsewhere in Hebron, along with Atif al-Jamal, the director of the Hebron office of the Ministry of Education and Muhammad Yasin, the director of the Hebron liaison's office, on the occasion of the first day of school.

Located in the center of Hebron -- one of the largest cities in the occupied West Bank -- the Old City is home to 6,500 Palestinians and some 800 notoriously aggressive Israeli settlers, according to a 2016 report by legal rights NGO BADIL.

Palestinian residents of the Old City face a large Israeli military presence on a daily basis, with at least 32 permanent and partial checkpoints set up at the entrances of many streets.

Meanwhile, approximately 1.25 million schoolchildren started the new school year in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip after the summer holiday ended.

The incident in Hebron came as the latest obstacle facing Palestinians on the occasion of the first day of school.

An entire school was seized by Israeli forces in the isolated village of Jubbet al-Dhib on Tuesday, leaving some 64 children without a school. Another school, a kindergarten, was demolished in the Bedouin community of Jabal al-Baba on August 21.

Israeli police stationed in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem also prevented 100 textbooks being delivered to schools located inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Tuesday, forcing the school administration to distribute the books outside of campus on the first day of school.

The Norwegian Refugee Council released a statement Wednesday condemning what it called "a wider attack on education in Palestine."

"In the first three months of this year there were 24 cases of direct attacks against schools, including incidents where tear gas canisters and sound bombs were fired at students on their way to or from school. Last year, four communities’ educational facilities were demolished or confiscated and 256 education-related violations were documented in the West Bank, affecting over 29,000 students," the statement said.

“Just when they were due to return to the classroom, Palestinian children are discovering that their schools are being destroyed,” NRC Country Director for Palestine, Hanibal Abiy Worku, said. “What threat do these schools pose to the Israeli authorities? What are they planning to achieve by denying thousands of children their fundamental right to education?”

NRC also highlighted that Palestinian children "face on a daily basis include violence and harassment from settlers and Israeli soldiers, military activity inside or next to schools, delays crossing checkpoints, and the arrest of children from their classrooms."

“We call on the governments and donors funding Palestinian children’s education to exercise all of their influence to prevent this violation in all its forms,” Abiy Worku said.

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