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Israel demolishes 24 buildings in West Bank village

Around 12 families are now thought to be homeless following the demolitions south of Hebron, including 10 EU-funded structures
An Israeli bulldozer arrives to demolish Palestinian houses in a disputed military zone south of the West Bank town of Hebron (AFP)

Israeli forces demolished at least a dozen buildings in a disputed military zone in the southern West Bank on Tuesday, leaving a number of families homeless, authorities and residents said.

Soldiers destroyed 24 structures in and around the village of Khirbet Jenbah, south of Hebron, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel said. Israeli officials said the structures were illegal.

An EU spokesman denounced the demolitions and said that 10 of the buildings had been constructed with funds from ECHO, the European Commission's humanitarian arm.

Forces arrived at around 7 am and carried out the demolitions, leaving 12 families temporarily homeless, Nidal Younes, head of a local village council, told AFP.

"In total it is around 80 people," he said.

Israel has carried out a long campaign to relocate the residents of the area, which was declared a military zone by the Israeli government in the 1970s.

Human rights groups have repeatedly challenged Israel's claim to the land, arguing it is illegal to establish a military zone in occupied territory, Sarit Michaeli from the B'Tselem NGO told AFP.

The families, many of whom are cave dwellers, argue their ancestors have lived on the land since long before Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967.

"We have no school in the village because the military won’t let us build one," said Halimah Abu Aram, a resident speaking to B'Tselem. "So our children have to walk to the school in al-Fakhit, which is about 10 kilometres away. They walk there and back in the cold and in the heat.

"We have no medical clinic. Once every two weeks, volunteer doctors come to al-Fakhit. Women, myself included, have to get there by foot. If someone is seriously ill, we have to take them by donkey or tractor over a gruelling route."

'We have the right to live in dignity'

"We have the right to live on the land of our fathers and grandfathers. We have the right to live with dignity like everybody else, with minimal means of sustenance."

A statement from COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry unit that administers civilian affairs in the West Bank, confirmed "enforcement measures were taken against illegal structures and solar panels built within a military zone."

A High Court injunction later in the day ordered a halt to all demolitions until at least 9 February, Michaeli said.

The residents of the region had been undergoing a process of arbitration with Israeli authorities after a High Court ruling, Michaeli said.

However, talks broke down in recent days.

"This basically means we are back to square one. The government want to remove them. The residents object," Michaeli said.

The EU called on Israel to change its policies in the occupied West Bank.

"The EU expects its investments in support of the Palestinian people to be protected from damage and destruction," said a spokesman, who condemned the demolitions.

COGAT said the negotiations failed as "the building owners showed no willingness to get the situation in order and illegal construction did not stop."

As such, "measures were taken in accordance with the law," it said.

In total, more than 1,000 people could be affected, Michaeli explained, as there are around 10 other villages that could face similar action.

The villages are represented by a number of different legal teams, so Tuesday's demolitions concerned only one of the claims.

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