Ma'an News Agency
April 12, 2011 - 12:00am

Concern is mounting for the residents of Awarta, as 71 villagers including a teenage girl and two elderly women remain held in Israeli custody without charge, and official visits to ensure their well being were prevented by Israeli forces.

Three Palestinians from the village who were living in Ramallah were detained from their homes there overnight, as their relatives in Awarta, including two brothers, were detained during an overnight raid.

From Awarta, Hasan Awwad, deputy mayor of the village, and his brother Salah, a local journalist, were both detained.

During the raid on the village the local cemetery was inspected, and soldiers told residents that three old weapons were found.

Rights group Addameer said that one group of soldiers held the family of Jibril Awad captive in their home until 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

A statement from the organization said soldiers rounded 20 members of the family into a single room of the home, and during an apparent search destroyed internal walls of the home, broke furniture and uprooted trees around the house to set up clear lines of view.

Those kept in the room for hours included 10 children and a pregnant woman, the group said, citing one family member Nauf Awad, who said he was also being detained. He said an ambulance was permitted to evacuate a sick woman and the pregnant woman from the home.

As of noon, however, soldiers remained in the home, with 18 members of the family remaining inside.

Awarta residents detained in Ramallah

Detentions of Awarta residents spread even outside of the village on Tuesday morning, with three residents who work in Ramallah detained from their city home in Beituniya.

A sister of two of those detained, lawyer Wadha Saleem Awwad, said her home in the Ramallah area was also raided shortly before midnight, and confirmed that two of her brothers and a third man were detained from a second home overnight.

Rights workers told Ma'an that heavily-armed Israeli forces surrounded the second Ramallah-area building at 3 a.m. and forced all residents to evacuate their apartments and wait outdoors as inspections and questioning took place.

Soldiers checked the identity cards of each resident, and detained 40-year-old Nu’man Salim Awwad, his brother 29-year-old Noah, and 19-year-old Yazid Hasan Awwad all from Awarta. They were all taken to the nearby Israeli Ofer detention center.

According to locals, Noah is a physician and moved to live in Ramallah to monitor his brother Nu’man who suffers from kidney failure.

Noah's sister said Nu’man, 42, had been placed under house arrest by Palestinian security services several months earlier, and noted that Yazid had been released from Israeli prison the month before, after serving six years.

An Israeli military spokesman said he could not comment on the report.

Case remains under gag order

Israeli officials are not talking about events in the village either, following a gag order by the Israeli government, preventing details about an investigation into the death of a settler family in a settlement adjacent from becoming public.

For the 31 days since the March 11 murders, Israeli forces have entered Awarta for repeated waves of arrests, searches and forced DNA testing of residents.

Village mayor Hasan Awwad said 71 young men and 16-year-old Julia Mazin Niyaz remain in Israeli detention facilities. Rights groups said they have not been permitted to see council, and have accused Israel of violating international law throughout its investigation of the grisly stabbings.

On Monday night, caretaker Prime Minister in the West Bank Salam Fayyad was refused permission by Israel to enter the area and visit the residents, alarming groups calling for an international presence there to observe the ongoing arrests and searches.

Elderly women interrogated

Umm Adam, detained by Israeli forces on April 6, said she and her 80-year-old husband were taken in to the Huwwara military base for questioning.

She and an estimated 150 other women from the village were gathered in a yard, and one by one taken for questioning.

"An interrogator accused me about the murdering of five settlers in Itamar. I answered him that I am a 70-year-old sick woman, that it would be fanciful to believe that I could have been involved ... then they took my fingerprints and released me four hours later in the early morning cold," she said.

During the same arrest raid, Umm Adam's three daughters, all married and living with husbands in the village, were taken along with their spouses for ten hours of questioning before they were released.

Umm George said her family home was ransacked five times. During the raids, she said all of the family members were detained and interrogated including she and her husband. Samples for DNA testing were taken and fingerprints were copied. Her sons George and Hakim remain in the custody of Israeli forces, she said.

Every time the soldiers raided the house, they turned everything upside down, during the fifth raid, she said she and her teenage daughter were detained. That time, she added, a stun grenade was launched into the home before they were taken away.

Umm Majdi said all of her sons have been detained over the past month, and her home has been damaged repeatedly by the searches.

"They brutally beat my sons; Majdi, who is 21, Amhad, who is 19, and 17-year-old Hakam. They beat them for no reason, they handcuffed my husband and broke everything inside the house; windows, the refrigerator, the washing machine and kitchen appliances. The spilled oil, sugar, salt and flour all together on the floor."

Despite the continuous raids, arrests, testing and questioning, no suspect has been identified in the case. Because of the gag-order, it is unclear what evidence points to Awarta residents, and no comments have been made indicating that other avenues are being pursued.

An early report said Thai workers from the settlement were taken for questioning in the wake of the stabbing deaths, but little else has surfaced since.

"This is collective punishment," Awwad said, accusing the soldiers of intimidating village residents in an effort to drive them from the land. "Already they took 12 dunums to build Itamar, and now they want the rest."

Palestinian officials and even some militant groups condemned the murders of the Fogel family, following accusations from Israeli officials that the murders had been a "terrorist attack" and pointing the finger at Palestinian militant groups, who have denied involvement.


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