19:10 GMT24 January 2021
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    Human rights activists have reported that Israeli settlers have pitched tents in the northern Jordan Valley east of the Palestinian Bedouin community of al-Malih. Locals fear the camp, which houses only shepherds now, is the precursor to a future permanent settlement.

    The Palestine News Network reported Thursday that the tent encampment had been set up east of Khallet Makhoul, which the Applied Research Institute — Jerusalem (ARIJ) notes is part of the larger community of al-Malih on the Allon Road (Route 578), home to roughly 1,000 Bedouin Palestinians.

    Human rights activist and former al-Malih Mayor Arif Daraghmeh told PNN about the camp, noting that locals fear "that these tents will become a new settlement." The outlet noted that a similar pattern has preceded the establishment of other official settlements.

    Although United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 states that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal, the Knesset continues to approve new ones, with around 20 having been established in the Jordan Valley so far, PNN noted. Nearby al-Malih are the Israeli settlements of Maskiyot and Rotem.

    ARIJ notes that the region is classified as "Area C" according to the Oslo II Interim Agreement of 1995, meaning it falls under full Israeli control.

    The Jordan Valley is sparsely populated but rich in agricultural land. The river flows south from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea and is Israel's second largest source of water, after desalination from the Mediterranean. The area is also home to a number of water springs, which ARIJ notes fall under the control of Israeli authorities, who prevent Palestinian communities in the area from benefiting from the springs.

    In addition, 57 percent of the Jordan Valley has been declared closed military zones or "firing zones," where the IDF train with live ammunition, forcing locals to leave their homes until the drills are over. Nearly 20 percent of the West Bank falls under this category.

    In October, the Times of Israel reported that settlers had occupied the abandoned military base at Camp Gadi, about 15 miles to the south, which was technically illegal, but neither the Defense Ministry nor the local government was taking action to stop them.

    The report of the encampment comes in light of a decision by the Israeli Defense Ministry earlier this week to approve over 2,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank, Sputnik reported.


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