Israel removes protest shacks near embattled West Bank site

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Israeli forces on Thursday dismantled five corrugated metal shacks that had been set up by Palestinian activists protesting the anticipated razing of a nearby West Bank hamlet.

Protest leader Abdullah Abu Rahmeh said about 200 soldiers converged on the area of the Khan al-Ahmar encampment before dawn, dismantled the shacks and loaded the parts onto trucks. Protesters chanted "Out, out, terrorist army," as the trucks and soldiers left after daybreak.

Israel's Supreme Court rejected an appeal last week, paving the way for Khan al-Ahmar's potential demolition. Israel says Khan al-Ahmar was illegally built and in an unsafe location near a major highway and has offered to resettle the residents 12 kilometers (7 miles) away under improved conditions. But critics say it's impossible for Palestinians to get building permits and the demolition is meant to make room for the expansion of an Israeli settlement.

The encampment has become a rallying cry for Palestinians and focused attention on what critics say is their displacement by Israel in the context of settlement expansion. European countries urged Israel last week to refrain from demolition and removal of the 180 or so residents.

COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs in the West Bank, said its supervisory unit removed the structures, which were placed near the settlement of Kfar Adumim and with the encouragement of Palestinian Authority officials in defiance of the Supreme Court ruling.

The ruling appeared to clear the final obstacle in a case that has been in legal limbo for nearly a decade, pitting what Israel says is a matter of law and order against the Palestinian claims of a creeping annexation of territory they seek for a future state.

The village is in the 60 percent of the West Bank known as Area C, which remains under exclusive Israeli control and is home to dozens of Israeli settlements. Israel places severe restrictions on Palestinian development there and home demolitions are not unusual. But the removal of an entire community would be extremely unusual.

In rare cases, Israel has also evicted Jewish settlers who have squatted illegally. But settlers generally have a much easier time receiving building permits, and the government often retroactively legalizes unauthorized outposts, looks the other way or offers compensation to uprooted settlers.

As part of interim peace deals in the 1990s, the West Bank was carved up into autonomous and semi-autonomous Palestinian areas, known as Areas A and B, and Area C, which is home to some 400,000 Israeli settlers.

The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and say that Area C, home to an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Palestinians, is crucial to the economic development of their future state.