Residents of threatened Palestinian Bedouin village must move, Israeli court says
Villagers from Khan al-Ahmar, in the occupied West Bank, have been fighting a long legal battle against Israel's plan to flatten their homes on the grounds they were set up without planning permission.
In May, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal against demolition, but it has since agreed to hear fresh petitions against the eviction plan.
In a five-hour hearing on Wednesday, judges showed no sign of relenting on the demolition order but told Israeli government lawyers to be flexible on how and to where the 173 villagers should be relocated.
Israeli authorities want to send them to a site near Abu Dis in the West Bank, but the villagers refuse, saying the site is near a garbage dump and is in an urban location where their animals cannot graze.
Tawfik Jabareen, a lawyer for the villagers, told AFP outside the courtroom on Wednesday that Palestinian landowners from Anata village, about five miles (eight kilometres) from Khan al-Ahmar, have agreed to let the villagers use their land.
"The residents of Anata have agreed that the Khan al-Ahmar residents will stay and settle on their lands, and have signed the plan," he said.
The lawyer said that an Israeli planning official on Tuesday rejected the Anata option, but argued she did not have the authority to do so.
The panel of three judges on Wednesday gave both sides 10 days to resolve their differences. In the meantime, the demolition of the village was suspended until the next hearing, Maan News agency reported.
"The judges said they want to hear more from the two sides," Jabareen said, reported AFP.
"They asked the state to submit its comments within five days, after that we have another five days to respond, and after that they will decide."
Khan al-Ahmar, built largely of corrugated iron sheets, cardboard and wood, sprawls in the dust at the edge of a highway leading to the Dead Sea and close to several major Israeli settlements.
Activists say the villagers had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, which are almost never issued to Palestinians in the parts of the West Bank where Israel has full control over civilian affairs.
At a demonstration in the village on Wednesday there was anger at the court delay, as protesters had hoped the demolition order would be revoked altogether.
"This delay is in keeping with the wishes of the settlers," said Waled Assaf, a Palestinian official at the protest.
Diplomats and NGOs are concerned that continued Israeli settlement construction in the area could effectively divide the West Bank in two and there has been strong international pressure on Israel to reverse its plans.
Forcible transfer is considered a violation of the Geneva Conventions.