Israel removes Palestinian protest camp outside Jerusalem
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli forces removed Palestinian protest tents from land adjoining a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank on Monday, the second such camp to be torn down in a week.
Palestinian activists had pitched tents near the village of Beit Iksa, northwest of Jerusalem, where residents face difficulty building homes due to Israeli restrictions and may be surrounded by a separation barrier Israel plans for the area.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, widely predicted to win a third term in an election on Tuesday, has pledged to pursue settlement building in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, occupied land that Israel has annexed in a move not recognised internationally.
"Israeli border police evacuated the structures, removing some 20 people who were there and confiscating the tents and equipment," an Israeli security source told Reuters.
Activists from the camp, which they dubbed Bab al-Karama, "the Gateway of Dignity", vowed to continue pitching tents on areas they say are threatened by Israeli settlement expansion.
"The demolition of Bab al-Karama does not mean the end of our stand. Activists will again occupy the site on which the village was built and they will rebuild their tents when the opportunity arises," activist Nabil Hababa said.
Last week, many of the same protesters were evicted by Israeli forces from a protest camp in an area outside Jerusalem known as E1, earmarked by Israel for new settlements that Palestinians say will split the West Bank in two.
The Israeli Haaretz newspaper reported on Monday that Israel's Defence Ministry planned to change the proposed route of its separation barrier to prevent Palestinian access to the E1 area. Speaking to Reuters, a ministry official denied the report.
Netanyahu announced plans late last year to expand settlements after Palestinians won de-facto statehood recognition at the United Nations General Assembly.
"The days of bulldozers uprooting Jews are behind us, not ahead of us," Netanyahu said in a recent interview with Maariv newspaper, referring to past efforts to remove illegal Jewish outposts throughout the West Bank.
About 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2010.
Most countries view Jewish settlements in areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war as illegal, and echo concerns voiced by Palestinians that building more settler homes could deny the Palestinians a viable and contiguous state.
(Reporting By Noah Browning; Editing by Janet Lawrence)