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Israel demolishes Palestinian school, drawing heavy EU criticism

EU said it was 'appalled' by demolition of school it funded, saying such actions were illegal under international law and that 'children's right to education must be respected'
Palestinians pick up papers and books from the site of a school demolished by Israeli authorities in Jabbet al-Dhib, east of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, 7 May 2023 (AFP)
Palestinians pick up papers and books from the site of a school demolished by Israeli authorities in Jabbet al-Dhib, east of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, 7 May 2023 (AFP)

Israeli forces on Sunday demolished a Palestinian primary school in the occupied West Bank, citing safety issues and drawing sharp criticism from the European Union which had funded the project.

Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli forces who fired tear gas at them as bulldozers moved in on the site at Jabbet al-Dhib village near Bethlehem.

The EU said it was "appalled" after Israeli forces arrived at dawn at the school site, which a Palestinian Authority official said served 45 students and consisted of five classrooms.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War. The territory is home to around 2.9 million Palestinians. Around 475,000 Jewish settlers also live there in state-approved settlements considered illegal under international law.

A trailer and classrooms constructed of tin sheeting were cleared out of their contents before the demolition, an AFP correspondent said.

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COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body overseeing civilian affairs in the occupied territories, imposed in March a two-month deadline to vacate the premises following an order by a Jerusalem court.

The body had determined that the school had been "built illegally" and posed a "safety hazard".

'Illegal under international law'

Ahmed Naser, a Palestinian education ministry official, said the school had replaced another demolished by Israel in 2019.

Naser noted its remote location, which he said prevents the "displacement and forced eviction" of local Palestinians, charging that Israel "wants to confiscate these lands".

The EU called on Israel to "halt all demolitions and evictions, which will only increase the suffering of the Palestinian population and further escalate an already tense environment".

"Demolitions are illegal under international law, and children's right to education must be respected," the office of the EU representative to the Palestinian Territories said in a statement.

In January, a group of United Nations experts had called for action to stop Israel's "systematic and deliberate" demolition of Palestinian structures.

"Direct attacks on the Palestinian people's homes, schools, livelihoods and water sources are nothing but Israel's attempts to curtail the Palestinians' right to self-determination and to threaten their very existence," the experts said in a statement.

Mubarak Zawahrah, head of the Beit Tamar local council where the school was located, told AFP Israeli authorities had agreed a stay on the demolition pending a court appeal on Wednesday.

"But the Israeli army ignored that and just demolished it," he said.

Naser, the education ministry official, said a tent would be erected on Monday on the site with basic infrastructure to replace the demolished structures.

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