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Death Threats and Increased Military Harassment for the Azzoun Region.

The last week has seen a big increase in military operation undertaken by the Israeli army in the Azzoun region of the West Bank. Regular incursions into Azzoun, Izbat at Tabib and Jayyous has been justified by the hunt for young men who allegedly have been throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Road 55, although residents of the area strongly deny any such activity has taken place. The Israeli Army have yet to provide any evidence that this has occurred, there is not one photograph of rocks or Molotov cocktails on the road, nor a car that has been damaged by them.

On Monday at around 3pm, approximately 20 soldiers invaded the village of Izbat At Tabib, 2km south of Azzoun. They entered the homes of residents and attempted to arrest 4-5 children, however the residents managed to release them. Human rights workers (HRWs) were contacted and came to the village to find a large Armored Personal Carrier (APC) with 5-6 armed soldiers, who claimed they were not searching for any specific child but would remain present as long as they felt necessary. Soldiers remained in the village until after 7pm.

In Azzoun at around 4am early Wednesday morning, an apartment above the medical laboratory was occupied by four soldiers. The husband and wife were sleeping when they heard screaming from below, and when they refused to open the door, the soldiers forced entry into their home and the laboratory office next door. They remained for approximately 30 minutes and accused the residents of wanting to kill Israelis. It is believed that the army expected this building to be empty.

Wednesday afternoon two army jeeps returned again to Azzoun, throwing sound bombs as well as smoke bombs at the entrances of two buildings. They then occupied the same apartment as the previous morning, and two HRWs along with the husband, wife, and elderly mother entered the home to find three heavily armed soldiers using the bedroom as a sniper’s post. This position was ideal for overlooking the village square where youths were congregating. The family and HRWs were detained in one room for approximately an hour while another jeep stayed in the square. After leaving the apartment, soldiers returned a few hours later shooting live ammunition at rooftops and in front of vehicles on the busy street.

HRWs spoke to the region’s captain, identifying himself as ‘Captain Joe’ although his real name is unclear. He bragged to them about his sniper skills from two weeks previously when he shot two young boys, lying defenselessly on the ground after initial gunshot wounds, and repeatedly promised that he was ready to kill.

He repeated these threats to kill the same night to the residents of Izbat at Tabib, as they were forced out of their homes at 1am. Approximately 70% of the village was kept outside for around one hour, as ‘Captain Joe’ aimed guns at young men’s heads whilst warning them of his willingness to kill.

For the past week there have been regular small scale army invasions in Azzoun around 2-3pm, roughly when the human traffic in central Azzoun is at its peak. The army have been positioning themselves in the towns central square for periods of time, sporadically arresting young men in the area. There are an estimated one hundred men from the small West Bank town, population 11,000, currently in Israeli Jails despite the towns noted lack of armed resistance to the Israeli occupation.

The village of Jayyous suffers from almost nightly incursions by the army, harassing and threatening residents of houses closest to the wall, and injuring boys with live ammunition and rubber bullets. A recently constructed playground in between Azzoun and Jayous has also received demolition orders for March 2008, as has almost the entire village of Izbat At Tabib, population 226.

The combination of recent army activity and demolition orders are suspected to be part of a strategy to garner High Court approval for a four kilometre wall to be built along the highway from Izbat At Tabib to Kafr Laqif – a wall that will effectively seal the main gate of Azzoun forever and impede travel for Palestinians throughout the region – for which the markings already exist.

Evidence for this is the provocative nature of the army incursions: positioning jeeps in the boys school and the central square at times of high footfall. There also seems to be no clear aim to most of the invasions other than making random arrests and reacting to stone throwing with live fire, tear gas, rubber bullets and soundbombs. Locals fear that Israeli army repression will continue in the Azzoun area until enough ‘justification’ is found for sealing the entire area off forever.