Al-Araqib Village Stormed By Israeli Police

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Israeli police on Tuesday stormed a Bedouin village that was completely razed in July, levelling efforts to rebuild homes for the third time in two weeks, rights groups said.

A huge convoy of around 30 police vehicles stormed the village of Al-Araqib in Israel’s southern Negev desert shortly after dawn, the Negev Coexistence Forum said.

The operation came just ahead of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The police immediately began destroying a group of tent-like structures which had been erected by villagers in a first step to rebuilding their homes, which were destroyed on July 27 in a much bigger raid.

‘There were about 100 policemen with five or six bulldozers and lorries. They destroyed the village for the third time in two weeks,’ said Haya Noah, head of the Negev Coexistence Forum.

Exactly two weeks ago, more than 1,000 police had raided the site and levelled 30 or 40 makeshift buildings which were home to around 300 Bedouin, uprooting hundreds of trees and carting off the villagers’ possessions.

A week later, police again raided the site and levelled the Bedouins’ efforts to rebuild.

Noah said on Tuesday that villagers had once again set about rebuilding their homes – most of them wooden structures covered with plastic or fabric to keep off the sweltering desert heat.

Police had also taken two water tankers and building material being used by the villagers.

‘They just don’t want the Bedouin to live there and they are sending a strong message to others,’ Noah concluded.

Around 160,000 Bedouin live in Israel, most dwelling in and around the Negev desert.

More than half of them live in unrecognised villages without municipal services like water and electricity, and much of the rest also live in extreme poverty.

Israeli authorities demolished three houses in the western Negev on Monday, local officials said.

The houses in Abda village belonged to the At-Tantawi family, the Abda regional council said.

Ibrahim Al-Waqeely, head of the council, condemned the timing of the demolitions during a heatwave and a few days before the holy month of Ramadan, as families prepare to fast.

Villagers will remain on their land, Al-Waqeely said, despite ‘continuous provocations’ by Israeli forces.

An Israeli police spokesman said he was not familiar with such an incident.

In besieged Gaza, the Hamas government’s crossings authority announced on Monday evening the arrival of an aid and solidarity convoy, Miles of Smiles II, to the Gaza Strip.

The group of 45 supporters from seven countries, entered Gaza with 45 ambulances equipped with medical goods and equipment worth an estimated one million euros.

Initial reports from the convoy, which sailed to Alexandria, Al-Arish, and then Gaza, said 70 European politicians would bring 50 ambulances and medicine as part of a campaign sponsored by former Lebanese prime minister Salim Al-Hus.

Gaza Foreign Ministry under-secretary Ahmad Yousef said that the aid convoy, which entered Gaza via Egypt’s Rafah crossing, came as a show of support for the enclave from the international community.

Yousef said more aid convoys were expected to arrive in Gaza during the month of Ramadan.

The first Miles of Smiles convoy arrived in Gaza on November 12 2009, after 25 days waiting on the Egyptian side of the crossing.

The group of 60 from ten European nations brought 100 small trucks loaded with medical aid and 260 wheelchairs.

Meanwhile a charity group run by the Libyan leader’s son Seif al-Islam Gadaffi said on Monday it signed a $50 million deal with a UN agency to rebuild 1,250 refugee homes in the Gaza Strip.

‘We have signed an agreement with UNRWA to build 1,250 homes in Gaza for a total cost of 50 million dollars,’ the executive director of the Gadaffi Foundation, Yussef Sawan, said.

Israel launched a devastating offensive on Gaza at the end of December 2008 that lasted 22 days and left many homes, schools and health centres damaged. Arab governments pledged funds to rebuild the coastal enclave.

Sawan said the reconstruction drive will begin ‘immediately’ and that Israeli guarantees were secured in order to bring vital construction equipment into the blockaded Palestinian territory.

UNRWA, the UN’s aid agency for Palestinian refugees, welcomed the Libyan donation in a statement quoting Peter Ford, the representative of the agency’s commissioner general Filippo Grandi.

Ford said: ‘Twelve thousand refugees are still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt, living in the meanwhile in miserable, cramped and often expensive conditions in rented houses or with relatives or camping in the open.

‘This generous donation should enable UNRWA to make a real difference to the lives of hundreds of families.’

But he stressed that ‘the pace of Israeli approval for UN projects would have to increase considerably for this to happen,’ the statement said.

‘We have a huge backlog of projects which have been held up, some of them for more than three years,’ he added.

‘If the Libyans have secured an increase in the amounts of construction materials being allowed to enter Gaza, backed up by large funds to procure those materials, then that is a significant and very welcome achievement, for which they deserve our sincere thanks,’ he said.

According to Sawan, the Israeli guarantees were secured after the Gadaffi Foundation agreed to divert an aid ship bound for Gaza in mid-July to Egypt.

Gadaffi’s son told an Arab newspaper at that time that Israel would allow reconstruction material sent by Libya into Gaza.

The Jewish state, which has maintained a strict blockade on Gaza for the past four years, agreed in June to ease the siege and allow all strictly ‘civilian’ goods into Gaza.

But Israel stressed it would maintain the ban for certain dual-use items thought to include construction materials which can be used to build rockets and bunkers.

The new policy followed mounting international pressure in the wake of a May 31 Israeli commando raid that killed nine Turkish activists aboard a flotilla of aid ships on a blockade-busting bid.