The Red Cross said Thursday it had suspended provision of tents to displaced Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, in a rare protest over Israeli confiscation of aid material.
"We’re suspending the distribution of tents and shelter materials because we have seen a pattern of obstacles and confiscations since the beginning of 2013", said Jon Martin Larsen, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Until now, the aid group had been distributing tents to Palestinians left homeless by Israel’s ongoing policy of house demolitions.
The Jordan Valley, which runs down the eastern flank of the occupied West Bank, has been particularly affected.
Last month, Israeli authorities demolished 27 homes in the Jordan Valley, leaving 147 people including 63 minors homeless, Israel rights group B’Tselem said.
Throughout 2013, a total of 124 residences were razed in the area, leaving 339 people homeless, 170 of them minors, B’Tselem said.
A joint statement Thursday from 25 international aid groups, among them Christian Aid and Oxfam, said the 2013 figure showed a 43 percent rise in demolitions over the preceding year and marked a five-year high.
It said "In light of the alarming trends, we the undersigned local and international faith, aid, development, and human rights organizations call again for an immediate halt to the demolitions of Palestinian homes, and for Israel to facilitate immediate, full and unimpeded humanitarian access so that aid can reach people in need".
Figures provided by the U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA show that the total number of structures destroyed in 2013, which includes non-residential buildings, stood at 390, up from 279 a year earlier.
Larsen said the move affects only shelter assistance in the Jordan Valley and not the distribution of other aid ,noting "we’ll continue to distribute aid to people after house demolitions, including hygiene kits, kitchen sets and mattresses".
As an example of the frequency of the problem, Larsen said that in 16 recent missions to help the displaced, the authorities had been involved six times in the “destruction or prevention” of aid distribution, affecting 200 people.
Israel regularly issues demolition orders for fragile tin houses inhabited by the Bedouin living in the Jordan Valley, saying the structures are built illegally. But the Palestinians claim it is part of a plan to drive out the residents so Israel can annex the land.
In September, Israeli troops manhandled a group of European diplomats as they tried to hand out tents to Bedouins whose West Bank homes had been destroyed by the army.
This is thought to be the first time the Red Cross has suspended tent distribution in the area.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, a Palestinian district official "Ghassan Daghlas" said about 100 olive trees were damaged in the night from Tuesday to Wednesday in an alleged attack by militant settlers near the village of Yanoun.
On the outskirts of another village, Qusra, militant settlers, some of them masked and armed, approached Palestinian farmers working their land Thursday and demanded that they leave, village resident Ahmad Talat said. A scuffle ensued, he added. The military arrived, Palestinians threw stones and soldiers fired tear gas, Talat said.
The military said soldiers dispersed the stone-throwers. It had no immediate comment on the alleged settler attack near Yanoun.
Also Thursday, the EU foreign policy chief "Catherine Ashton" urged Israel to reverse its decision to approve building permits for 558 apartments in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. Municipal planners approved the permits Wednesday.
Ashton said "these plans could put at risk the prospects of Jerusalem becoming the capital of two states and, in particular, the territorial contiguity between east Jerusalem and the southern West Bank".
Israel’s government had no immediate comment.