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Israel demolishes dozens of West Bank shacks

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Israeli army knocked down shacks in a West Bank village for the second straight day Thursday, leaving dozens of Palestinian Bedouin homeless, a United Nations official said.

Israeli military spokesman Zidki Maman said the structures razed were built in a closed military zone without permits and the villagers were warned in advance.

Forty-five people lost their homes Wednesday in a village near the West Bank city of Hebron, said James Weatherill, Humanitarian Affairs Officer at the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Thursday's operation in the village of Mughayir el Dir, 8 miles northeast of Jerusalem, destroyed 25 homes and left dozens more homeless.

The two days of demolitions came after a lull in recent months, said Weatherill.

Villages in area under full Israeli control
The villages affected are in the nearly two-thirds of the West Bank that are under full Israeli control, pending a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Alon Cohen-Lifshitz, an architect who is active in Israeli group Bimkom which advocates equal planning rights for Palestinians, said Israel's policies in the area limit Palestinian growth. Most villages lack Israeli approval for their development plans and even residents of the handful of villages with approved plans find it hard to get building permits, he said, adding that since 2000, only about 90 permits had been granted.

A May U.N. report said that since 2000, Israel had issued demolition orders against around 5,000 Palestinian-owned structures in the Israeli-controlled zone, knocked down more than 1,600 of them and rejected 94 percent of Palestinian building requests.

About 350 Bedouin live in Mughayir el Dir, a village of scattered tin-and-wood shacks on a rocky hillside. In September, the army told eight families living in the lower part of the village to leave their homes, Weatherill said.

Demolition came as surprise
The villagers appealed the orders and a court decision was expected on November 1, Weatherill said. But a bulldozer, escorted by two army jeeps, knocked down about three dozen shacks and animal sheds Thursday.

"Because they filed this appeal, they thought they were good for now," Weatherill said. "So the fact that (the military) showed up today to do the demolition is surprising and troubling," Weatherill said.

After the bulldozer left, Sami Khamis Zaydat looked over the tangled tin and wood of the four buildings which had been home for him and 13 family members.

He said villagers had lived on the spot for 50 years and he had no idea where they would go now, as winter sets in.

"Israel doesn't want us to have a place to sleep," said Zaydat, 26. "It could rain later, and we'll end up sleeping here on the dirt."