Police removing last protesters in Ofra settlement home demolition
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Police removing last protesters in Ofra settlement home demolition

Bulldozers to begin demolishing remaining eight houses as evacuation operation enters its second day

Israeli police forces arrive to evacuate protesters on February 28, 2017 in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, during an operation by Israeli forces to demolish nine buildings. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Israeli police forces arrive to evacuate protesters on February 28, 2017 in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, during an operation by Israeli forces to demolish nine buildings. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Police on Wednesday began clearing the last remaining protesters from the roof of a home slated for demolition in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, paving the way for nine structures to be bulldozed in accordance with a High Court of Justice order.

The operation to evacuate the buildings — eight of them homes — built on private Palestinian land began on Tuesday, with police removing right-wing activists and youths from the houses in intermittently violent clashes throughout the day.

After successfully evacuating all but one of the structures on Tuesday, police decided to wait until Wednesday morning to remove dozens of demonstrators who had barricaded on the second floor and roof of the last occupied house. Some 15 youths spent the night in the rain on the roof, Israel Radio reported.

On Tuesday, police began to bulldoze the buildings, razing the one uninhabited structure. The remaining eight houses are expected to be demolished on Wednesday after the final protesters holding out are removed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbT5BzOShsY

At least 11 police officers had suffered minor injuries in scuffles with protesters as of Wednesday morning, according to Israel Radio.

At least two of the injured officers reported they were bitten by protesters.

The Honenu legal aid group, which provides defense to right-wing activists, said that at least five people were arrested, four of them for attacking police officers, including three female minors and a 30-year-old resident of Ofra.

Another resident of the settlement was arrested for trying to give food to the demonstrators barricaded on the roof using a remote-controlled drone, the group said.

In a separate demonstration against the demolition of the homes, hundreds of youth protested at the Chords Bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem on Wednesday morning, blocking the road leading into the city and burning tires.

The operation to evacuate the homes came after the High Court of Justice struck down an appeal on Monday by residents of Ofra for the homes to be sealed rather than destroyed.

Hundreds of mostly unarmed troops, dressed in bright blue sweaters, faced off Tuesday against the protesters, many of whom had barricaded themselves in some of the homes, climbing on roofs and calling on police to refuse orders to clear out the homes.

Israeli police forces evacuate protesters on February 28, 2017 in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, during an operation by Israeli forces to demolish nine buildings. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Israeli police forces evacuate protesters on February 28, 2017 in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, during an operation by Israeli forces to demolish nine buildings. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Some of the activists were brought out on their feet, while others were carried away by police.

In that fashion, “hundreds of young men and women” were removed from the area, police said.

Other officers used bullhorns to tell the hundreds of protesters to refrain from violence.

Due to the stiff resistance and large number of activists holed up in the final home, police used a hydraulic battering ram to force open the back door of the house. An additional 100 officers were brought in to assist with the evacuation.

While many of the protesters agreed to leave peacefully, police said they sought the reinforcements after negotiations for the remaining demonstrators to leave the last house failed.

Despite the calls for resistance by many protesters, the residents of the homes in question did not seek confrontation, saying in a statement earlier, “We will not use crowbars and we will not barricade ourselves” inside the homes.

Eight families living in the buildings had already left by Tuesday, police said.

Diggers under the supervision of Israeli forces destroy a house in the Jewish settlement of Ofra in the West Bank, on February 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Diggers under the supervision of Israeli forces destroy a house in the Jewish settlement of Ofra in the West Bank, on February 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The court issued its demolition ruling for the Ofra houses in February 2015, and, after a number of delays, set March 5 as the final deadline by which the buildings must be pulled down.

The residents’ request to have the structures sealed off and not demolished would have made them eligible for being spared in accordance with legislation passed earlier this month known as the Regulation Law. The law legalizes Jewish homes constructed illegally on Palestinian land, if homeowners can prove they built their homes in good faith or received government assistance.

Palestinians whose land is expropriated under the law are eligible to receive either financial compensation or alternative plots elsewhere.

However, the judges ruled unanimously on Monday that the demolition of the buildings must go ahead.

The nine homes in Ofra slated to be evacuated. (Google Maps illustration)
The nine homes in Ofra slated to be evacuated. (Google Maps illustration)

The original case against the nine Ofra buildings was brought before the High Court in 2008 by the left-wing Yesh Din legal aid group, which represented the Palestinian landowner.

A report published in the same year by another Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, said some 60 percent of the built-up area of Ofra lies on land that is registered to Palestinians. The claims to private ownership of lands in settlements like Ofra and the Amona outpost are based on the pre-1967 Jordanian land registry, which Israel adopted after it captured the West Bank from the Jordanians that year.

Judah Ari Gross, Raoul Wootliff and AFP contributed to this report.

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