Hundreds of Palestinians are being evacuated from the northern Jordan Valley to make way for an Israeli military training exercise, local officials told Ma’an news agency.
According to several village council heads in the Jordan Valley, an estimated 1,500 Palestinians will be displaced by the exercise, which begins on Sunday.
Al-Malih and al-Madareb council chief Aref Daraghmeh said some families would be permitted to return after the two-day exercise, while others were told to leave their homes permanently.
He said several Israeli departments were working together to pressure Palestinians to leave the Jordan Valley in order to build Jewish settlements and military bases.
Al-Malih resident Abu Mohammad told Ma’an that despite having lived in the village for decades, he would be leaving out of fear for his safety. His house had been hit by Israeli artillery before, he said.
Researcher for the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem Juliet Bannoura said the latest evacuation was part of a campaign that started in 1967 to remove Palestinians from the Jordan Valley, most of which Israel designated a closed military zone.
“This is a trick in order to execute a silent and final evacuation,” Bannoura told Ma’an.
“Now Israel is completing building of the separation wall in the west, they want to work on the eastern side as well,” she said.
A Ma’an reporter witnessed an influx of forces and military equipment into the region.
Settlement monitoring official Ahmad Assad suspected the scale and length of the training indicated it was related to joint Israeli-US operations.
Israeli and US soldiers were began a series of massive military drills called Austere Challenge 12 in October, in the largest-ever joint military collaboration between the two allies. The drills, involving some 3,500 personnel from the US European Command and 1,000 Israeli troops, were expected to last three weeks.
The Israeli military did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says Israel has designated around 18 percent of the West Bank as closed military zones, an area roughly equal in size to Area A, the 17.7 percent of the West Bank under Palestinian Authority control.
Around 5,000 Palestinians live in Israeli military firing zones in the West Bank, UNOCHA says. Since 2010, Israel has demolished the homes of 820 Palestinians located in firing zones.