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Israel's top court clears way for razing of Bedouin village in West Bank

KHAN AL-AHMAR, West Bank (Reuters) - Israel’s top court cleared the way on Wednesday for the demolition of a Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank whose fate has drawn international concern and Palestinian protests.

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The Palestinian government, in a statement, said the razing of Khan al-Ahmar was part of an Israeli plan to create an arc of Jewish settlements that would effectively cut off East Jerusalem from the West Bank, areas captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Khan al-Ahmar is situated outside Jerusalem between two Israeli settlements.

The Supreme Court, in a decision released by a court spokesman, rejected petitions against the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and said a temporary injunction that had put a hold on the move would lapse in a week.

The Palestinian government said the ruling gave “occupation forces the authority to commit an international crime by forcibly displacing the 180 Palestinian citizens of Khan al-Ahmar”.

The villagers, members of the Bedouin Jahalin tribe that was expelled from southern Israel by the military in the 1950s, raise sheep and goats and live in tin and wood shacks.

Khan al-Ahmar was built without Israeli permits, a factor cited prominently in the court’s decision. Palestinians say such documents are impossible to obtain.

The European Union had urged Israel to scrap the evacuation plan, under which Israel plans to relocate the residents to an area about 12 km (seven miles) away, near the Palestinian village of Abu Dis.

But the new site is next to a landfill, and rights advocates say a forcible transfer of the residents would violate international law applying to occupied territory.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, on Twitter, congratulated the Supreme Court justices for “their brave and called for decision” in the face of opposition by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Israeli left and European states.

The mood in the village, where residents attended a protest meeting after the ruling, was despondent.

“We have gone through all the procedures in court, now we can do nothing more,” said Tawfiq Jabareen, a lawyer for the community. “If anything can prevent the demolition, it is the political process.”

The Palestinian government urged the international community to “come out of its ineffective condemnations shell and intervene immediately” with Israel.

Most countries consider settlements built by Israel on land it captured in the 1967 Middle East War as illegal and an obstacle to peace. They say they reduce and fragment the territory Palestinians seek for a viable state.

Israel disputes this and cites biblical, historical and political connections to the land, as well as security needs.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Dan Williams and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Janet Lawrence