Israeli settlers poisoning our sheep, say West Bank farmers

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The Independent Online

Highly toxic chemicals have been spread on Palestinian sheep pastures in what villagers believe is an escalation of a campaign of harassment against them by Jewish West Bank settlers.

Highly toxic chemicals have been spread on Palestinian sheep pastures in what villagers believe is an escalation of a campaign of harassment against them by Jewish West Bank settlers.

Amnesty International has called on the Israeli authorities to investigate fully a systematic poisoning attack which they say has killed more than 20 sheep in Tuwani, a village of 250 people, and two others in the south Hebron hills.

The poisoning here and in Umm Faggara and Kharruba came to light after a series of violent attacks over the past year by masked men on international volunteers accompanying shepherds and protecting Palestinian children walking to and from school in Tuwani from the outlying village of Tuba. The last, on 16 February, left a Italian human rights activist, Johannes Steger, with a fractured jaw, a torn retina and amnesia.

The villagers blame the nearby settlers of Maon and Havat Maon for the attacks, which have prompted the army and police to provide an armed escort for the children travelling round the settlement between the two villages.

Amnesty has accused the Israeli police - who are fully responsible for this section of the occupied West Bank - of failing adequately to investigate the poisoning and bring its perpetrators to justice. Police say they have made arrests in connection with attacks but do not yet know who is responsible for the poisoning and that an investigation is continuing.

The Palestinian farmers have been obliged to quarantine their flocks and stop selling or consuming their milk, meat and cheese in what one villager, Hafez Hareini, said was an "economic disaster" for the area.

Salem al-Adra, 74, said he had lost three of his 30 sheep from two poisoning episodes, and that 80 others among the 1,250 grazed by shepherds in Tuwani and Umm Faggara had fallen sick, with symptoms such as diarrhoea and foaming at the mouth.

The al-Adra family produced a bag of green pellets collected by volunteers which Amnesty says analysts from both Bier Zeit University and the Israeli Nature Protection Authority had identified as barley treated with 2-Fluoracetamide, a powerful rodenticide banned in several countries.

Amnesty says a second poisoning uncovered in the first week of April used Brodifacoum, an anti-coagulant and another highly toxic rodenticide.

Naim al-Adra said: "The settlers just don't want us to enter our land."

His father added: "They are wicked people. It's very easy to explain. They just don't like the smell of Arabs. When they came here first in 1982 it was very easy for the first year. But then they said, 'We are going to take your land piece by piece'."

Emily Amrusy, spokeswoman for the Yesha Council, the settlers' umbrella body, said the international activists had laid the poison to frame the settlers. She said she did not know why escorts had been provided for schoolchildren.

Shelley Stanley, 22, an American volunteer working in Tuwani, said she had gone to Kyriat Arba police station to report that she had been told by a security guard at the Maon settlement that the poisoning had been the work of Havat Maon settlers.

"The policemen took a statement," she recalled, "but when I asked what would happen, he said, 'This is way over our head; we are waiting for a decision'."

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