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Israeli forces uproot trees in South Hebron Hills nature reserve

Sept. 25, 2016 1:07 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 26, 2016 12:35 P.M.)
(File)
HEBRON (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces reportedly uprooted a number of trees on Sunday morning in a nature reserve in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron, Palestinian sources told Ma’an.

Ratij Jabour, a coordinator for the National Resistance Committee against the Wall and Settlements, told Ma'an that Israeli Nature and Parks Authority staff accompanied by Israeli armed forces entered the al-Daqiqa nature reserve in the Masafer Yatta area, removed barbed wire surrounding the park, and proceeded to uproot dozens of trees.

A resident of the nearby village of Tuba told Ma'an that some 30 to 35 saplings had been uprooted by Israeli forces in the reserve.

A spokesperson for the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority told Ma’an that while staff from the department might accompany Israeli forces during operations like these, their presence would in fact be on behalf of the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory.

A COGAT spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

The nature reserve was established by locals with the help of foreign organizations in 2008, and includes 5,000 trees and eight wells built for collecting rainwater.

Jabour added that Israeli forces have threatened to evict the families in the area and demolish their homes, claiming that the area was in a military training zone for Israeli forces.

The Masafer Yatta area, also known as the South Hebron Hills, lies almost entirely in Area C, the 62 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli civil and security control since the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Hundreds of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta live in an area declared a military zone by Israel in the 1970s, known as the "918 Firing Zone." Residents were expelled at the time and eventually allowed back following a long court battle, but are under the constant threat of being expelled.

Meanwhile, the presence of around 3,000 Israeli settlers illegally living in the area has meant that local Palestinians have been heavily restricted from building homes and infrastructure over the past decade, according to the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem.
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