Israel raids nature reserve, launches military exercise near village
Published Monday 16/12/2013 (updated) 17/12/2013 10:42
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces raided a nature reserve in southeastern Bethlehem and notified a number of Bedouin families living nearby that they had hours to evacuate their homes before military exercises began on the site, a village leader told Ma'an.
Village chairman Fawaz Rashayda told Ma'an that Israeli forces entered al-Muteirdah nature reserve just east of the Rashayda Bedouin village on Monday afternoon, pitching military tents and moving in tanks and heavy artillery.
The area was originally occupied by Israeli forces in the 1960s for use as a military camp for artillery and heavy equipment, but was evacuated in 2000 on the basis of the agreements between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The area was then converted into a Palestinian nature reserve.
The Israeli forces subsequently declared an area of around 6 kilometers to the east of Rashayda a "closed military zone," and notified families living in the vicinity that they had until 5 p.m. to leave their homes, otherwise they would be evacuated by force.
Fawaz Rashayda said that soon after, military exercises involving heavy artillery and machine guns began and are currently underway in the area, threatening the lives of dozens of people living in tents close by.
Rashayda said that about 80 families with their sheep and camels were living nearby.
He added that as a result of the take over, local families had been completely sealed off from the world, as Israeli forces had closed the main street that runs through the area with military vehicles and were preventing people from passing.
He added that dozens of students will not be able to reach school during the next few days as a result of the raid.
Rashayda appealed to officials and international institutions to intervene and demanded the occupation authorities to evacuate the area of heavy military equipment and allow freedom of movement for the population.
Rashayda also appealed to the national electricity company, pointing out that the area has been without power over the last four days since a heavy storm hit.
The internationally recognized Palestinian territories of which the West Bank and East Jerusalem form a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.