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Israel re-opens natural springs in West Bank but bars Palestinian locals from visiting
Israeli officials have barred local Palestinians from a popular nature site during the brief re-opening of Ein Hanya springs during Jewish holidays, media reported on Tuesday.
Ein Hanya is nestled in a natural beauty spot, just south of Jerusalem, and surrounded by West Bank villages.
It has been subject to fierce debate since it was closed for renovations two-years-ago, with its brief re-opening this week indicating that Palestinians could be barred from the site once it is permanently re-opened.
Situated just across the 1948 Green Zone demarcation line, Ein Hanya's status is controversial, with the site officially situated within Israeli-run Jerusalem municipal boundaries, but surrounded by West Bank Palestinian villages.
For years, Palestinians from the neighbouring Al-Walaja village enjoyed the springs, one of the few nature spots open to West Bank locals who live under stifling Israeli occupation.
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Two years ago, Ein Hanya was made into a tourism site and has remain closed since. Israeli police appear to want to bar Palestinians from visiting the springs or only allow them in with a permit when the site is re-opened.
"The spring is within the municipal area of the city of Jerusalem, which Palestinians are only authorised to enter with a permit, as is the case at the other security crossings around the country," Israeli police said according to Haaretz.
"Any attempt to present the factual reality otherwise and to link it to the police is baseless."
Some Israelis are demanding a nearby checkpoint be moved further south to cut the spring off from Al-Hajwa village, despite the operation estimated to cost around 12 million shekels ($3.4 million).
The tourist site was opened for three days this week for the Jewish Purim holiday, although Palestinians were not allowed to enter.
Shaul Goldstein, the nature authority's director, said that Palestinians visiting should be allowed to the site and spoken against moving the checkpoint further south.
"We even proposed to the defence establishment that a back gate be opened so Al-Walaja residents could come," he said.
"I'm not in favour of excluding Palestinians, especially since they don’t have so many other places to go."