Israeli lawmakers demand clearance of Bedouin encampment

KHAN AL-AHMAR, West Bank (Reuters) - Two influential Israeli lawmakers demanded the clearance of a Bedouin encampment near Jerusalem on Monday, reigniting a years-long battle over the site and urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to defy international pressure.

Khan al-Ahmar has been at the heart of a battle over land rights in the West Bank for years, with international bodies including the European Union urging Israel not to evacuate the site and move its inhabitants out by force.

But the election of a new government which includes nationalist right-wing parties determined to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank has brought new pressure to clear the encampment. The pressure has been particularly strong since the army prevented a small group of Jewish settlers setting up an outpost in the West Bank last week.

"All the necessary permissions are on the table, including the approval of the Supreme Court of Israel, it's just up to the defence minister and the prime minister to decide," said Yuli Edelstein, a Knesset deputy and chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee who joined Danny Danon, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party and former envoy to the United Nations.

"I think the sooner the actions will be taken, the less problems it will create," he said.

In 2018, after years of legal battles, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the demolition of the site, which was built without construction permits. Palestinians say such permits are virtually impossible for them to obtain.

Successive Israeli governments have held off from enforcing demolition following international calls to refrain from compulsory evacuation of the residents, who say their families have lived in the area since the 1950s.

On Monday, as the deputies stood on with a police escort a hill opposite the hamlet to demand clearance, a group of demonstrators with Palestinian flags gathered in Khan Al-Ahmar to show support.

The standoff follows a prolonged battle over an order to evacuate the West Bank area of Masafer Yatta near Hebron, a group of hamlets where Palestinian shepherds and farmers claim a historic connection to the land.

A scruffy cluster of tin and wooded shacks by the side of a highway out of Jerusalem between the Israeli settlements of Maale Adumim and Kfar Adumim, Khan al-Ahmar is home to around 180 people and includes an EU-funded school.

Palestinians say the aim of the pressure to evacuate the areas is to clear the way for expanded Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the area which would form the core of any future Palestinian state.

"The goal is to empty the land and give it to the settlers," said Eid Jahalin, head of the Khan al-Ahmar compound.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie and Ali Sawafta, Editing by Timothy Heritage)