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Israeli authorities deny settlers set up mobile homes near Nablus

Sept. 4, 2017 9:31 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 5, 2017 12:10 P.M.)
NABLUS (Ma’an) -- Israeli authorities have denied reports that Israeli settlers set up a number of mobile homes and tents on land near the Palestinian village of Jalud in the northern occupied West Bank district of Nablus on Monday, contradicting reports from local sources.

Ghassan Daghlas, who monitors settlement activities in the northern West Bank, said that the structures were set up only a few meters away from the site where Israeli authorities plan to build the illegal Amihai settlement, Israel’s first new official settlement to be established in the occupied West Bank in 25 years.

At the time, a spokesperson for COGAT, the agency responsible for imposing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, told Ma’an they could not comment on the existence of the new caravans without photos or the exact coordinates of their locations, to which Ma’an did not immediately have access.

Later Tuesday morning, a COGAT spokesperson said that officers for the Israeli Civil Administration inspected the area, and "no new illegally placed constructions were found."

"Unlike most media outlets who contact COGAT for comments on illegal construction, and attach photos or coordinates which we use to look into the matter, Ma'an did not supply us with any documentation proving that the construction does indeed exist in the mentioned area," the spokesperson's email to Ma'an said.

She added that "The Civil Administration will continue to uphold enforcements against all illegal constructions wherever they may be."

Multiple local media outlets had also reported on the establishment of the structures near Amihai's construction site, including the Palestinian Authority's Wafa news agency.

The Israeli government approved the budget for the Amihai settlement on Sunday. The settlement was established to house settlers from the illegal Amona outpost that was demolished by order of the Israeli Supreme Court in February.

The budget, amounting to some 60 million shekels (approximately $16 million) -- five million shekels of which will be allocated to temporarily house the former Amona residents -- was confirmed by Israel’s cabinet during its weekly meeting.

Israeli authorities broke ground on the settlement in June. However, the construction was later frozen owing to a lack of funds.

Palestinians from Jalud, who claim they own the land where Amihai is being built, have filed a case with Israel’s Higher Planning Council of Judea and Samaria (West Bank), while Israeli rights group Yesh Din has petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court against the decision to establish the new settlement.

According to Israeli watchdog Peace Now, Amihai’s construction is aimed at expanding the already-established Shilo settlement towards the Jordan Valley. The adjacent Shvut Rachel East settlement was also approved in February, but the Israeli government has considered it a “neighborhood of Shilo” instead of an official settlement.

“Under the disguise of ‘compensation’ to the Amona settlers, two new settlements, located one next to the other, are now in the making,” the group said back in May.

“The two new settlements are located in a region that serves as focal point of settler land takeover and settler violence, preventing Palestinians from reaching their lands,” the group added.

There are some 196 government recognized Israeli settlements scattered across the Palestinian territory, all considered illegal under international law.

While settlement outposts such as Amona have been considered illegal even under Israeli domestic law, earlier this year, Israel passed the outpost Regularization law, which paves the way for the retroactive legalization of dozens of Israeli settler outposts.Between 500,000 and 600,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in violation of international law.

The international community has consistently said that their presence on occupied Palestinian territory was a major impediment to peace in the region.
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