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'War crimes': Israeli demolitions in Sur Bahir widely condemned

Lawmakers and UN experts say destruction of homes in Palestinian village in East Jerusalem sets dangerous precedent
Israeli forces demolished 11 buildings in the Palestinian village of Sur Bahir (AFP)

United Nations experts and human rights groups from around the world have condemned Israel's destruction of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, calling the move a "flagrant" violation of international law.

In a statement, Amnesty International said the demolition of homes in the Palestinian village of Sur Bahir on Monday was "part of a systematic pattern by the Israeli authorities' to forcibly displace Palestinians in the occupied territories".

"Such actions amount to war crimes," said the group's Middle East and North Africa director, Saleh Higazi.

The Israeli authorities demolished 11 buildings in Sur Bahir's Wadi Hummus neighbourhood, which sits next to the Israeli separation barrier that severs the West Bank from Jerusalem.

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The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the barrier, which cuts deep into the occupied Palestinian territories, violates international law.

"The large-scale operation began in the early hours of this morning while it was still dark, forcing families out of their homes, and causing great distress among residents," three United Nations experts said in a statement after the demolitions.

"What happened today in Sur Bahir is of even greater significance, as many other homes and structures now risk the same fate," they said.

The UK-based legal charity Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights also called on the British government to intervene.

The demolition "sets an alarming precedent for all homes belonging to Palestinian residents that are located in the vicinity of the illegal separation barrier," the group said in a letter to Andrew Morrison, the UK minister of state for the foreign and commonwealth office.

Heba Yazbak, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and elected member of the Israeli parliament, said the Israeli government had committed war crimes in the village.

"Israel must take immediate responsibility of its actions, legitimised by the Israeli High Court of Justice," Yazbak wrote on Twitter.

Israel's Supreme Court ruled in June that the structures in question violated a construction ban. The deadline for residents to remove the affected buildings, or parts of them, expired on Friday.

A 2011 Israeli military decision also gave Israel the authority to demolish buildings in PA-administered areas. Wadi Hummus was the first.

'Thousands at risk'

An acting spokesman for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs defended the demolitions amid the global outcry.

"Israel has the full right to demolish the illegal buildings adjacent to the security fence in Sur Baher. This was carried out following a High Court of Justice ruling that these constructions constitute a security danger to Israeli civilians," Nizar Amer said on Twitter.

But as news of the demolitions spread, politicians as well as humanitarian and human rights activists from around the world criticised Israel for its actions.

Kate O'Rourke, the Palestine country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, said: "Israel's security arguments to justify these demolitions sets a dangerous precedent that leaves thousands at heightened risk.

"The commission of grave breaches of international humanitarian law must be challenged by the international community," she said in a statement late on Monday.

In the United States, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar also tweeted her support for the Palestinians.

"Palestinians deserve self-determination and statehood just like their neighbors, not destruction of their property and indefinite military occupation of their land," she said.

"This has to stop!"