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West Bank Bedouin remain wary after Israeli court suspends razing of village

KHAN AL-AHMAR, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinians and their supporters marked a temporary victory in a Bedouin village in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Friday after an Israeli judge halted demolition proceedings.

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Khan al-Ahmar, which lies east of Jerusalem at a site whose fate has become a focus of protests and international concern, was quiet early on Friday after two days of clashes between activists and Israeli security forces.

A Supreme Court injunction was issued on Thursday evening granting a temporary writ “barring the implementation of the demolition orders” for structures that the Israeli military had planned to tear down.

The injunction had been sought by lawyers for the villagers, who filed it late on Thursday after two days of protests following the arrival of bulldozers.

The court gave the state until July 11 to respond to the villagers’ contention that they had been unfairly denied building permits.

A spokeswoman for Israel’s Justice Ministry had no immediate comment on when or how the state would respond.

The village of tin and wood shacks is home to around 180 Bedouin who raise sheep and goats on a parched hillside on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, with the red rooftops and greenery of Israeli settlements visible from nearby hilltops.

But as Khan al-Ahmar residents gathered for Friday prayers under a tarpaulin strung from trees next to the village school made of mud and used tyres, the mood was one of reprieve rather than victory.

“The mood is better, people are less stressed, but we are still worried,” said Mahmoud Abu Dahouk, 51, who was born in the village.

“We are going to continue sitting here, but the real fact is that the Israeli occupation has targeted this village as part of its project for this area, so they are going to seize it and destroy it any way possible.”

Human rights groups say that removing the Bedouin would create a bigger settlement pocket east of Jerusalem, dividing the West Bank into two parts and making it difficult for Palestinians to achieve territorial contiguity for the state that they seek in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Israel said it plans to relocate the residents to an area about 12 kilometers (seven miles) away, near the Palestinian village of Abu Dis.

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

Most countries regard settlements Israel has built in the West Bank as illegal. Israel disputes this.

Addressing a crowd of villagers and supporters on Friday, Adnan al-Husseini, the Palestinian Authority governor of Jerusalem and a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, said the injunction “does not mean that the case has ended.”

Alluding to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, and to recognize the whole city as Israel’s capital, he said: “This area and other targeted areas are linked to the fate of Jerusalem and the state of Palestine.”

Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Mark Heinrich