Illegal, EU-funded structure destroyed by IDF (file)
Illegal, EU-funded structure destroyed by IDF (file)Reuters

IDF forces demolished more than a dozen illegal Palestinian buildings built with European Union funding in a closed military zone in Judea, south of Jerusalem, on Tuesday.

Soldiers destroyed 24 structures in and around the Arab settlement of Khirbet Jenbah, south of Hevron, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel said. Israeli officials said the structures were illegal.

An EU spokesman condemned the demolitions and said that 10 of the buildings had been constructed with funds from the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO).

"The EU expects its investments in support of the Palestinian people to be protected from damage and destruction," said the spokesman.

Forces arrived at around 7:00 am and carried out the demolitions, leaving 12 families temporarily homeless, Nidal Younes, head of a local village council, claimed to AFP.

"In total it is around 80 people," he said.

However, Israeli activists have noted that most "residents" of such illegal Arab outposts in fact own homes elsewhere, and set up sites such as these in order to create political "facts on the ground."

Israel has carried out a long campaign to relocate the residents of the area, which was declared a military zone by the Israeli government in the 1970s.  

The families argue their ancestors lived on the land since long before Israel liberated Judea and Samaria in 1967. Similar claims are regularly made by Arab squatters elsewhere in the country, many of whom in fact only moved to the locations in question over the past decade or so.

The Hevron region is replete with such illegal Arab settlements, including one built on top of the ruins of the ancient Jewish town of Susya.

A statement from COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry unit that administers civilian affairs in Judea and Samaria, confirmed that "enforcement measures were taken against illegal structures and solar panels built within a military zone."  

A High Court injunction later in the day ordered a halt to all demolitions until at least February 9.

The St Yves organisation which submitted the injunction cited, among other reasons, the fact that a number of the destroyed buildings were paid for by the European Union as justification for suspending the demolitions.  

The EU did not immediately confirm the claim, but it has come in for severe criticism from Israel for pouring millions of euros into illegal Palestinian building projects in violation of the Oslo Accords, with the objective of creating facts on the ground.

The residents of the region had been undergoing a process of arbitration with Israeli authorities after a High Court ruling, Michaeli said.

However talks broke down in recent days.  

"This basically means we are back to square one. The government wants to remove them. The residents object," Michaeli said.  

COGAT said the negotiations failed as "the building owners showed no willingness to get the situation in order and illegal construction did not stop."

As such, "measures were taken in accordance with the law," it said.

The illegal Arab settlements are represented by a number of different legal teams, so Tuesday's demolitions concerned only one of the claims.  

Israel has in recent months launched a crackdown on such EU-funded illegal Palestinian settlements.

AFP contributed to this report.