Israeli forces conduct military drills in Bethlehem village
Published Tuesday 17/12/2013 (updated) 17/12/2013 22:23
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Hundreds of heavily armed Israeli soldiers raided Arab al-Rashayida village south of Bethlehem early on Tuesday morning and started a wide-scale military drill, a day after occupying a nearby nature reserve and displacing several families.
Chairman of the village council Fawaz al-Rashayda told Ma'an that Israeli troops arrived in groups and started "provocative activities" and military drills between the houses while large military vehicles deployed around the village Tuesday morning.
Israeli forces subsequently erected checkpoints and notified locals that they would be unable to leave their houses after 10 a.m.
The population of Arab al-Rashayida is around 2,000. The majority of residents live in cement houses, while others live in tents and dwellings made of steel and tin.
On Monday afternoon, Israeli forces deployed in a nature reserve east of Arab al-Rashayida known locally as al-Muteirda, displacing nearby families and declaring it a "closed military zone."
Israeli forces had previously used the area until they left in 2000 as part of the Oslo Accords. It had since been turned into a nature reserve by Palestinian authorities.
Fawaz Rashayda told Ma'an yesterday that Israeli forces erected military tents and deployed tanks and heavy artillery on the 25-acre natural reserve and subsequently commenced military drills in the area.
The troops warned neighboring semi-nomadic Palestinian residents that they should evacuate the area before 5 in the afternoon, otherwise they would be evacuated "forcibly."
Rashayda highlighted that about 80 families live in tents near the reserve with herds of sheep and goats.
Dozens of school pupils will not be able to access their schools in the coming days, the mayor warned at that time.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said she was aware of a training exercise but no official request was made for residents to leave.
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.