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Middle East

Palestinians win settlement land from Israel

Farmers return after legal victory to be given rights to West Bank land abandoned by settlers in 2005.

Last Modified: 03 Oct 2013 17:17
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Palestinians remove Hebrew written by Israeli settlers on a water tank near Burka [AP]

Palestinian farmers have reclaimed lands they had lost decades earlier to an Israeli settlement, in a rare legal victory their lawyer says is proof that Israel's settlement policy is reversible.

In the 1970s, Israel seized several hundred acres from residents of the West Bank village of Burka to build the Israeli settlement of Homesh.

The settlement, along with three others in the West Bank, was razed in 2005, in connection with Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

However, Palestinians were not allowed to return to their lands after the demolition because the Israeli military did not rescind the land seizure order and prevented access to the area, Michael Sfard, attorney, said.

After more than two years of court petitions, the military last week lifted access restrictions, Sfard of the Israeli rights group Yesh Din said.

The military said it had acted in line with the petitions. On Thursday, farmers returned to their land for the first time.

"I feel as if I was dead and now I am alive again," Fathallah Hajjeh, 64, said.

"I never felt such joy. We are rooted to this land."

The return of the land shows that "the settlement project is reversible", Sfard said.

About 500 acres of land were reclaimed, Emad Saif of the Burka local council said.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the terms of a Palestinian state resumed in late July, but gaps remain wide and expectations are low on both sides that a deal can be reached.

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