JERUSALEM: Israeli security personnel patrol an area in Sur Baher as a machine demolishes a Palestinian building on Monday.—Reuters
JERUSALEM: Israeli security personnel patrol an area in Sur Baher as a machine demolishes a Palestinian building on Monday.—Reuters

SUR BAHER: Israel demolished a number of Palestinian homes it considers illegally constructed near its separation barrier south of Jerusalem on Mon­day in a move that drew inter­national condemnation.

Palestinian leaders slam­med the demolitions in the Sur Baher area which straddles the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, but Israel defended them as essential to its security and noted they had been approved by its supreme court.

UN officials and the European Union condemned the demolitions and called for an immediate halt to the policy.

Before dawn, hundreds of Israeli police and soldiers sealed off buildings in the area close to the Israeli separation barrier which cuts off the West Bank, an AFP journalist said.

Residents and activists were dragged out of homes, though most of the buildings under demolition orders — a total of 10 — were still under construction.

Earthmovers then demolished at least three multi-story buildings. They were also preparing to destroy an eight-story building still under construction.

One man yelled “I want to die here”, after being forced out.

The owner of one demolished building, Akram Zawahra, said “they are destroying our dreams and the dreams of our children”. “They won’t destroy our determination,” he said.

Security concerns

Israel says the buildings were constructed too close to the separation barrier and posed a security risk.

It has established a buffer zone around the barrier in the area of between 100 and 300 metres, according to UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

OCHA says demolishing all 10 of the buildings would see three households of 17 people displaced and another 350 people affected.

The buildings were to include a total of 70 apartments, it said.

Palestinians accuse Israel of using security as a pretext to force them out of the area as part of long-term efforts to expand settlements and roads linking them.

They also point out that most of the buildings are located in areas meant to be under Palestinian Authority civilian control according to the Oslo Accords of the 1990s.

“What is painfully happening here is the biggest and most dangerous demolition operation outside of war operations,” Walid Assaf, the Palestinian minister in charge of monitoring Israeli settlements, said in a video clip from the site.

In a statement Pales­tinian president Mahmud Abbas called on the “international community to intervene imme­diately to stop this aggression against our people”.

Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan accused the Palestinians of “lies”, stressing the demolition was validated by the country’s top court after a lengthy process.

Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Prime Minis­ter Benjamin Netanyahu, also stressed security concerns.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2019