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Israel bulldozes EU-funded Palestinian homes, leaving 27 people homeless

Israeli authorities destroy homes in Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir for second time this year
A boy walks past rubble after Tuesday's demolition, which left 16 minors homeless (AFP)

Dozens of Palestinians were left homeless on Tuesday after Israel razed five structures in the West Bank, three of which had been funded by the European Union.

Photos and videos posted to social media by Israeli NGO B'Tselem showed Israeli bulldozers moving in to destroy the prefabricated buildings, some of which had the EU flag stuck to their exterior walls.

According to B'Tselem, 16 minors were among the 27 Palestinians made homeless by the demolitions, which took place at Umm al-Kheir, in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank.

This is the second time this year that Israeli authorities have destroyed their homes.

Witnesses told local news site Raya that the residential structures had been occupied by members of a single extended family.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah condemned the destruction on Tuesday, calling it a violation of international law.

“Israel is relentlessly destroying Palestinians' homes and livelihoods in order to make way for more illegal settlements,” Hamdallah's office said in a statement.

“Once again, I call on the international community to step in and stop Israel's ongoing violations of international law.”

Israeli Justice Minister Ayalet Shaked visited the South Hebron Hills on Monday, saying there was “a tremendous amount of illegal Palestinian building” in the area, much of it constructed with the help of “foreign finance”.

Palestinians in the area must obtain building permission from the Israeli army – without this, their homes are considered illegal. According to Israeli Civil Administration data analysed by the UN, Israel only approved 33 - or 1.5 percent - of 2,020 applications for permits in Area C submitted between 2010 and 2014.  

The Hathaleen family, whose homes were destroyed, owns a deed to the land on which the village sits. The neighbouring Israeli settlement of Carmel was built in the 1980s on land belonging to the Hathaleens. 

Since 2009, the EU has funded temporary housing for Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli civil and military control.

The funding has been a constant source of tension between the EU and Israel over the past seven years, although the EU says that the housing constitutes humanitarian assistance and as such does not require a permit from the army.

In her comments on Monday, Shaked accused the EU of “double standards” by supporting Palestinian housing in Area C, while opposing Israeli settlement-building in other areas of the West Bank.

In June, the Israeli army demolished seven EU-funded buildings inhabited by Bedouin residents of the West Bank.

Two weeks earlier, EU ambassador to Israel Lars Faarborg Andersen had warned that going ahead with the planned demolition risked damaging ties between Israel and the union.

B'Tselem, which documented the demolition on Tuesday, says that Israel demolished more homes in Area C in the first half of 2016 than it had in the whole of 2015.