Israel has begun demolishing a Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank for the second time in three months, in what a rights group called an attempt to displace an entire Palestinian community from the area.
Israeli authorities said the village of Khirbet Humsah, in the northern West Bank's Jordan Valley, had been constructed illegally on a military firing range, and that residents had rejected their offer to move to a nearby area.
Khirbet Humsah's 130 inhabitants have vowed to stay, with some sleeping on mattresses and plastic tarps strewn on the rocky soil. Tented homes and animal shelters in the village were last razed in November, though residents returned soon after.
"We will not move from here, we will stay here. If they demolish, we will rebuild," said one of the residents, Ibrahim Abu Awad. He and other Bedouin in the village said they feared Israeli settlers would seize the vacated land.
The Israeli rights group B'Tselem said the demolition at Khirbet Humsah was "unusually broad," accusing Israel of seeking "to forcibly transfer Palestinian communities in order to take over their land."
Some 440,000 Israeli settlers live among more than 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war and which Palestinians want as part of a future state.
Israeli forces began dismantling tents and livestock pens in Khirbet Humsah on Monday, residents and B'Tselem said. On Wednesday, Israeli troops accompanied by bulldozers also knocked down several steel and wooden structures in the village, Reuters TV footage showed.
The dismantled tents had housed 74 Palestinians, including 41 minors, B'Tselem said in a statement.
COGAT, Israel's military liaison to the Palestinians, said it had explained to residents "the dangers involved in staying within the firing range" and offered them space outside of it.
"Despite the offer, the residents refused to independently move the tent areas that had been set up illegally and without the required permits and approvals," COGAT said.
Palestinians and rights groups say such permits are nearly impossible to obtain from Israel. A rights group had reported last month that Israeli authorities demolished 729 Palestinian buildings in 2020 on the pretext of lacking construction permits.
Despite the coronavirus outbreak, Israeli forces have continued to demolish Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank, while defying accusations of war crimes in the occupied territories.