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Residents: Homes, structures destroyed in Palestinian community

By Kareem Khadder, CNN
  • Residents say they were startled by the demolitions
  • Israel says structures built on state land without permits, legal procedures preceded action
  • Community group organizer says Israeli troops told them they will return for more demolitions
  • United Nations: 16 people, including 9 children, displaced

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israeli bulldozers Wednesday destroyed housing and animal structures in a Palestinian Bedouin community, its residents said.

More than 200 Israeli special forces personnel and more than 20 military vehicles participated in the operation early Wednesday in the Abu Al-Ajaj community in Israel's Jordan Valley, residents said.

The Israeli Civil Administration said it "evacuated three temporary structures that were used to house animals and a tent" that were built without permits on land belonging to the state. Legal procedures were completed before the action was taken, it said.

"This used to be a Palestinian refugee camp, and the people have been living here for ages," said Fathi Ikhdirat, coordinator of the Jordan Valley solidarity campaign. "This is another Palestinian village in the Jordan Valley that is subjected to the Israeli displacement policy. This is part of the ethnic cleansing process that Israel undergoes on a daily basis under the watchful eye of the entire world and the international human rights organizations."

Israeli troops told residents they will be returning for more demolitions, Ikhdirat said.

An elderly resident, Shahed D'eis, was arrested and later released. "We were surprised by the large presence of the Israeli soldiers surrounding our community early this morning." The troops began "demolishing structures on top of us," he said. "They destroyed the housing and animal sheds on top of the animals ... we estimate almost 35 heads of sheep and goats are dead under the rubble of the structures, worth a lot of money."

Al-Ajaj is part of Jiftlik, the second-largest Palestinian community in the Jordan Valley after Jericho. Livestock and farming are residents' main sources of income.

More than 56,000 Palestinians live in the area, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In 2010, 260 people were displaced from the Jordan Valley by Israeli authorities. Sixteen people, nine of them children, were displaced by Wednesday's action, according to OCHA.