ISRAEL MUST EVACUATE MILITARY OUTPOSTS AND MINEFIELDS FROM THE OCCUPIED GOLAN HEIGHTS – demands Adalah and Al-Marsad Arab rights groups

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Druze residents of the Golan Heights show their support for Syrian President Assad
Druze residents of the Golan Heights show their support for Syrian President Assad

ADALAH, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Al-Marsad Arab Human Rights Centre in the Golan Heights, sent a letter to senior Israeli military officials on 30 July demanding that they evacuate Israeli military outposts and minefields from the occupied Syrian town of Majdal Shams located on the Golan Heights, a press release said on Wednesday.

The military outposts, constructed after Israel occupied the Golan Heights in 1967, are situated on dozens of acres belonging to Majdal Shams residents. The outposts, and the associated minefields which surround the outposts and the town itself, are located directly adjacent to residential homes and the some 11,000 civilians who live there.

Adalah Attorney Muna Haddad and Al-Marsad Attorney Karama Abu Saleh wrote in their letter that the military outposts and minefields present a direct danger to Majdal Shams residents. Their very presence near the town endangers the lives of town residents in an illegal manner… Fields of anti-personnel landmines have been placed around the outposts and the town itself.

‘These mines pose a most serious danger to the residents as they cannot be easily identified, they drift beyond the (marked) minefields particularly during the winter months, and move towards the town’s homes and orchards.

‘Some of the mines even explode as a result of summer heat. Over the years, many village residents – particularly children – have tragically been harmed by exploding mines.’ Israel’s failure to remove the minefields and the military outposts is a violation of international humanitarian law, Adalah and Al-Marsad said.

‘Israel’s actions on the Golan Heights are subject to international humanitarian law. Article 43 of the Hague Convention stipulates that an occupying force’s primary factor when considering any action is its benefit to the local civilian population, and (this article) obligates protection of the residents of the occupied territory. Article 46 further requires protection of the lives and property of the local population.’

Al-Marsad appealed more than four years ago to the Israeli Defence Ministry which committed at that time to removing mines from the area. In 2013, Israel began to clear mines on Al Rihani hill in Majdal Shams but stopped before the work was completed and Israeli authorities have since failed to respond to further appeals from Al-Marsad.

Israel has occupied Majdal Shams since 1967. In 1981, Israel annexed the village, along with the other small Syrian villages of Ein Qiniyye, Mas’ade and Buq’ata, under the Golan Heights Law. Most inhabitants of Majdal Shams hold permanency residency status in Israel, as do Palestinians residents of East Jerusalem.

Since 1967, it is estimated that at least 69 civilian residents of the Golan Heights have been wounded by land mines. Among these, 18 died, half of whom were children. Israeli civilians, Israeli soldiers and tourists have also been victims of landmines, however, accurate figures on casualties are difficult to obtain.

More than 9,000 acres – the equivalent of over 6,000 soccer fields – are suspected to be mined in the Golan Heights, distributed over around 2,000 minefields that vary greatly in size. The mines are mostly found in grazing areas, agricultural land, along the ceasefire border, and in nature reserves. There are two mine fields within Majdal Shams itself.

Adalah and Al-Marsad demand the immediate removal of Israeli military outposts and minefields from Majdal Shams and its lands.

• Palestinian officials said Wednesday that Israeli murderers of Palestinians who get pardoned by their government or get a lenient sentence in spite of the gravity of their crime should be tried by international criminal courts. Issa Qaraqe, head of the Prisoners Commission in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said the Israeli soldier who killed Abdul Fattah al-Sharif in cold blood while incapacitated should be tried in an international tribunal.

The soldier, Elior Azaria, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and may even be pardoned and sent home in spite of his conviction of killing an incapacitated Palestinian in Hebron. Israeli criminals who committed a war crime against Palestinians and had received support, pardon and lenient sentence from the Israeli courts with full and official government backing, should be turned over to international tribunals to stand trial as war criminals,’ said Qaraqe.

• Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with a Hamas delegation from the occupied West Bank at Abbas’ presidential palace in Ramallah in the central West Bank on Tuesday evening. Abbas, who leads the Fatah-majority Palestinian Authority (PA), and the delegation, headed by Nasser al-Din al-Shaer, discussed efforts to achieving national unity between Hamas and Fatah, who have failed to commit to reconciliation efforts since the movements came into violent conflict in 2007, shortly after Hamas’ 2006 victory in general elections held in the Gaza Strip.

Renewed calls for national reconciliation sprang up last month in the wake of a massive civil disobedience campaign among Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem in protest against Israeli measures at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

PA-owned Wafa news agency reported that in the meeting, Abbas told the delegation that ‘if Hamas dissolves the administrative committee it had established to run the Gaza Strip and enables the government of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to work freely in Gaza, then all measures recently applied to the Gaza Strip will be retracted.’

The PA has been the focus of fierce condemnation in recent months, after being accused of deliberately sending the impoverished Gaza Strip further into a humanitarian catastrophe in order to wrestle control of the territory from Hamas. The Ramallah-based PA has notably decided to slash funding for Israeli fuel to the coastal enclave, as Israeli authorities acceded to PA demands to dramatically reduce its electricity supply to Gaza, which was already reeling from lack of access to electricity and fuel.

Other policies implemented by the PA in recent weeks, including allegedly halting medical referrals to patients in Gaza to receive medical treatment outside of the territory and cutting its funding to the medical sector in the besieged enclave, which has seen the typical $4 million monthly budget of Gaza’s health ministry plummet to just $500,000, have also greatly exacerbated the dire situation of residents in Gaza.

Hamas’ growing alliance with Abbas’ longtime political rival and discharged Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan – with whom Hamas has confirmed an alliance to challenge the PA – resulted last month in the PA deciding to block 11 Palestinian news websites – all allegedly affiliated with either the Hamas movement or Dahlan, which has been condemned by rights groups as a ‘serious violation of freedom of the press and expression.’

Dahlan reportedly met Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas’ politburo, during a visit to Cairo, which was followed by a leaked report alleging that Dahlan was slated to be appointed as head of Gaza’s de facto government.

Hamas authorities have also been accused of withholding funds collected in Gaza from the PA, as well as targeting Fatah officials in Gaza through detentions and restricting their freedom of movement, recently preventing a Fatah Central Committee member from leaving the besieged territory.