Hundreds of Israeli troops, accompanied by bulldozers, have begun demolishing homes in the Palestinian village of Sur Baher despite Palestinian protests and international criticism.
Residents of the village’s Wadi al-Hummus neighbourhood told local media on Monday that 16 residential buildings, which hold around 100 apartments, were being targeted.
The Israeli military considers the homes, which are close to an Israeli separation wall that crisscrosses the occupied West Bank, a security risk.
The Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favour of the military last month, ending a seven-year legal battle, and set Monday as the deadline to knock down the homes. Palestinians say the act will set a precedent for other towns along the route of the barrier, which runs for hundreds of kilometres around and through the occupied West Bank.
Al Jazeera’s Rob Matheson, reporting from the demolition area, said the Israeli action began around 7:15am local time (04:15 GMT).
“We heard very loud bangs coming from a building right next door to where we are now. It was from a large mechanical digger that was ripping off part of the roof of a building that was home up until this morning to two families,” he said.
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“The father of one of the families has been sitting on a chair in the street watching his home being torn apart.”
The sprawling village of Sur Baher straddles the line between occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. It was captured and occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.
Matheson said Israeli forces have levelled a building in the West Bank side and destroyed 50 per cent of a home belonging to a Palestinian family of 10 the East Jerusalem side.
“In the early hours of the morning, while it was still dark, Israeli forces moved into the house and removed the family. They took the family away – we heard screaming and shouting. And within two hours, 50 per cent of the building has been destroyed.”
The demolitions marked a “very sombre and sad day” for Palestinian residents, he said.
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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. All settlements on occupied Palestinian lands are illegal under international law.
They also point out that most of the buildings in Wadi al-Hummus neighbourhood are meant to be under the Palestinian Authority and civilian control under the 1993 Oslo Accords.
“What is happening today is mass displacement of the people living in Wadi al-Hummus, despite the legal and diplomatic attempt to protect their property,” Ali al-Obeidi, the chairman of the Wadi al-Hummus Committee told local Maan news agency.