Al-Khalil (Ma’an) — Israeli military authorities in the southern West Bank city of Al-Khalil closed a major checkpoint in the city center after it was targeted and burnt by assailants.
Israeli authorities said that the military post was set alight by two Palestinian youths despite the fact that it had been surrounded by cement blocks in order to protect it against Molotov cocktails and broken bottles.
Emad al-Atrash, a spokesman for the local activist group Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, said that this was the second time locals had burned down the checkpoint, which prevents Palestinians from accessing their homes and shops on Shuhada Street in order to “secure” the area for Jewish settlers.
Al-Atrash said that the last time the checkpoint had been attacked, Israeli authorities closed it to Palestinian traffic entirely, forcing hundreds of local residents who are given permission to pass on the street to travel kilometers to go around the thoroughfare.
Israeli forces have severely restricted Palestinian access to Shuhada Street since 1994, turning the heart of Al-Khalil’s bustling Old City into a heavily militarized ghost town as part of what they say is an effort to provide security to around 500 Jewish settlers who have taken over homes and evicted residents in the area.
The attack on the checkpoint came amid a renewed wave of attacks by Jewish settlers on local Palestinian residents, including the attempted stabbing of 15-year-old Awne Abu Shamsieh.
Al-Atrash said that his organization was working to construct a small local emergency room to aid Palestinians wounded in such attacks, as Israeli soldiers often prevent ambulances from accessing the area and helping the injured.
Al-Khalil’s Old City has been under Israeli military control since the 1990s, despite sitting in the center of a Palestinian city. Israeli settlers have slowly encroached on local homes and buildings, taking them over one-by-one and expanding their militarized presence in the area.
The existence of soldiers throughout the alleyways and streets of the Old City have caused thousands of Palestinians to flee the area, as their daily lives are interrupted by military checkpoints and routine attacks by settlers, which are rarely punished by Israeli authorities.
Although Shuhada Street is normally closed to most Palestinians, Jewish settlers are allowed to walk through the area.
The street is divided by concrete blocks to separate them from the few Palestinians who are allowed to walk on the road after proving at the checkpoint that the only access to their homes is from the street.
Many residents are forced to enter their homes through windows from adjacent streets, however, as the road is frequently closed even to them during Jewish holidays or because of protests.