An EU envoy warned Thursday over the possible mass displacement of Palestinians from a West Bank area at the centre of a protracted legal battle, after a controversial Israeli court ruling.
The European Union's ambassador to the Palestinian territories, Sven Kuehn von Burgsdorff, issued the warning as he toured Masafer Yatta in the occupied West Bank, where evictions of Palestinians have increased after they lost a land rights case in Israel's top court on May 4.
"If mass evictions and forcible transfer were to be the case, that would be the biggest forcible transfer for decades -– that's our concern here," he told AFP.
Israel's supreme court ruled that the more than 1,000 residents of the villages of Masafer Yatta had "failed to prove" their claim of permanent residence in the area, before the army declared it a restricted military site known as "Firing Zone 918".
The judgement ended a two-decade legal struggle, paving the way for the Palestinians to be evicted from their homes.
Von Burgsdorff told AFP that there has been a dramatic rise in demolitions since the ruling.
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Twenty-seven buildings have been knocked down since the judgement, and at least 30 more demolition orders have been issued -– more than double the rate in recent years, an EU source said.
In the early 1980s the army declared the 3,000-hectare (30 square kilometre) territory a restricted military area and claimed it was uninhabited.
The Palestinians living there said it was their people's home long before Israeli soldiers set foot in the West Bank, which the Jewish state has occupied since 1967.
Von Burgsdorff accused Israel's top judges of disregarding international law in a ruling that, he said, "seems to ignore" Israel's responsibilities to the Palestinian residents as "an occupying power."
"Families have lost their homes, but this decision is a political one, not a legal one at all," he told AFP.
"International pressure is the only way to stop this," he added.
The diplomatic visit had been delayed by two days after the army decided to hold a live-fire exercise in the area.