Israeli army turns village into training aground

BEIT LID, West Bank — Urban warfare exercises by Israeli troops in full battle gear have been giving Palestinians in this West Bank village some sleepless nights.

No shots are fired during the drills, but the clatter of helicopters dropping off soldiers in nearby fields and their entry into the village of Beit Lid amid battle cries in Hebrew of “fire, fire, fire” frighten residents.

“I was scared to death,” said Afaf Omar, a 55-year-old teacher.

She said she immediately dropped to the ground to take cover when she encountered Israeli troops practising the takeover of her village earlier this month as she headed towards school in the morning.

Some 6,200 people live in Beit Lid, on the road between the cities of Tulkarem and Nablus in the central West Bank, territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

An Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, has filed a complaint with the Israeli military, saying such exercises violate international law obligating an occupying power to ensure the safety and well-being of the local population.

In a statement, the army said: “No roads were closed and there was no disturbance to the people in their homes. Overall, there was no contact with the population and everything was done according to regulations and orders.”

 

Night drills

 

Beit Lid residents said the drills — there have been three since February — usually start after midnight and end after sunrise.

As soldiers race between cream-coloured, stone houses, without entering them, some of the troops fall “wounded”, to be picked up by military ambulances that roam the streets, villagers said.

Residents believe the drills are dress rehearsals for military operations in the nearby West Bank city of Nablus, where the army has often carried out raids to detain fighters since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000.

“When they come, our children do not sleep because they are scared. We, the adults, are scared — imagine the children,” said Iman Kamel, a mother of five.

Yesh Din, which describes itself as an organisation of volunteers opposed to “the continued violation of Palestinian human rights in the occupied territories”, said it obtained testimony from a soldier who took part in a Beit Lid drill.

“It was a disgrace the way we walked around there … it looked so crazy and I think residents there got a heart attack” said the soldier, who did not give his name because he was not authorised to talk about the exercise.

Residents said the soldiers do not harass them, but village council head Salameh Dreidi told Reuters he would appreciate, at the least, advance word from the army on any future drills.

“They should conduct their exercises outside populated areas (instead) of terrorising a whole village,” he said. “We are civilians, we cannot stop them.”

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