Israeli forces withdraw from Awarta 16Mar11 March 17, 2011

Ma’an News Agency -  16 March 2011

Israeli forces withdrew Wednesday morning from the West Bank village of Awarata, following four and a half days of military curfew and home-to-home searches.

Israeli officials said troops were searching for suspects in the murder five members of a settler family from the nearby settlement of Itamar.

By the time the closure was lifted, forty men from the village had been detained, and residents reported mass damages to homes and buildings.

In the final hours of the military closure, town residents said soldiers had been searching for cameras, photos and images of destroyed houses.

Details of the investigation have remained under gag order in Israel, with officials saying only that a search was ongoing, and that “in general, is a terrorist attack,” according to Israel’s police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

Foreign workers in the settlement were questioned, Ma’an learned on Monday, and among those detained from Awarta were two officers with the Palestinian security forces and a village council member.

Awarta Mayor Qays Awwad told Ma’an by phone Wednesday, that he was informed of the end of the military curfew by Palestinian liaison officials early in the morning.

Awwad said checkpoints remain installed around the eastern side of the village.

He added that residents were only beginning to catalog the damages sustained to homes and village infrastructure, calling it “huge.”

The village was put under closure on Saturday morning, when Israeli police began an investigation into the death of five members of the Fogel family, including two children and a three-month-old infant.

In the wake of the murders, settlers living illegally in the West Bank unleashed a string of attacks on Palestinians, in apparent revenge for the killings, which no Palestinian faction has claimed to have committed.

Settlers from Itamar, where the Foguls resided until their deaths, erected an illegal outpost in honor of the family.

The outpost was built on lands privately owned by Awarta residents, and others in the nearby city of Nablus.

Officials from Israel’s Civil Administration did not answer calls seeking comment on whether the outpost would be permitted to stand, erected as it was one week after the Israeli government said three similar outposts built on private Palestinian lands would be demolished because they were illegal.

In the wake of the killings, Israel also announced the construction of hundreds of new settlement homes in the West Bank.

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, building settlements on occupied land is illegal.

Awarta residents said they feared continued attack from Itamar settlers, following a violent protest carried out by the residents, which saw rocks and bottles thrown at Palestinian homes in the village.

Because Awarta remained under curfew during the attack, residents were helpless to defend themselves. When some men from the village left their homes to drive the settlers away, Israeli military forces enforcing the curfew drove them indoors with tear-gas canisters and sound bombs.

Residents moved women and children into homes of the western side of the village fearing further attacks.

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