SALFIT (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces uprooted 150 olive trees in the Wadi Qana valley in the central occupied West Bank district of Salfit on Monday morning without prior notice, locals told Ma'an.
Mayor of the nearby village of Deir Istiya Said Zeidan told Ma'an that the "Israeli occupation" uprooted 135 trees, all of which were between two and fours years old, and also destroyed a 40-meter-long dry-stone wall in the area.
However, a spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, told Ma'an that a total of 150 trees were uprooted.
In response to a request for comment, the spokesperson described the "illegally planted" trees as "an incursion into a declared nature reserve in the Qana stream," confirming that the 150 trees were "evicted" on Monday morning for "damaging the natural view and values of the nature resort."
Deir Istiya's municipal council member Nathmi Salman told Ma'an that the trees were uprooted without prior notice.
He argued that Israeli authorities "are attempting to control the Wadi Qana area and deprive the (Palestinian) landowners from benefiting from their land under the pretext that it is a natural reserve."
The uprooted trees belonged to Abd al-Aziz Abd al-Qadir Aqil and Muqbil Muhammad Awwad. Salman added that the Israelis "confiscated" the trees after they uprooted them.
The valley, which has historically served agricultural and recreational purposes for local Palestinians who own land in the area, was declared a nature reserve by Israel’s Civil Administration in 1983.
Israel has used this designation for years to justify uprooting Palestinian crops and forcing Palestinians from the area, according to
Israeli rights group B’Tselem.
Several Jewish-only Israeli settlements and outposts -- including Immanuel and Karnei Shomron to the north, and Yaqir and Nofim to the south -- have been illegally established along the ridges of the valley since the 1970s.
Waste water dumped from the settlements has gradually polluted the river, forcing out Palestinians who have lived in and visited the valley for generations.
Palestinian owners of land in Wadi Qana and the village of Deir Istiya have meanwhile been prevented from building or planting in the area, the majority of which is in Area C, under the full civil and military control of Israel.