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More Palestinian homes demolished as new Israeli government moves to curb the country’s judiciary

THE Israeli military has demolished homes, water tanks and olive orchards in two Palestinian villages in the southern West Bank, according to residents and activists.

Wednesday’s attack took place in the villages of Ma’in and Shaab al-Butum, where some residents are at risk of imminent expulsion.

One of the villages where structures were demolished is part of an arid area of the West Bank known as Masafer Yatta, which the Israeli military has designated as a live-fire training zone. 

Some 1,000 residents of the eight hamlets that make up Masafer Yatta are under threat of expulsion, an order that Israel’s Supreme Court upheld in May after a two-decade legal battle.

Images shared by local residents and activists show armoured vehicles escorted construction equipment on Wednesday to carry out the demolitions.

Guy Butavia, an activist with Israeli human rights group Taayush, said that the army had destroyed five homes, animal pens and cisterns.

“They come and demolish your house. It’s winter. It’s cold,” he pointed out, asking: “What’s next? Where are they going to sleep that night?”

Most residents of the area have remained in place since the ruling, even as Israeli security forces periodically demolish structures. But they could be forced out at any time.

Local officials and human rights groups said that Israeli defence officials had told them that they would soon forcibly remove more than 1,000 residents from the area.

“There is a genuine concern that a grave war crime will be committed,” said lawyer Roni Pelli, who works with the Association of Civil Rights in Israel.

The demolitions coincided with the new right-wing government seeking to weaken the country’s judiciary.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin presented plans on Wednesday for sweeping changes which include allowing lawmakers to pass laws that the high court has already judged to be unconstitutional.

Since being indicted on corruption charges, new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to rein in the justice system. 

He denies all charges, claiming to be the victim of a witch-hunt orchestrated by hostile media, police and prosecutors. 

Mr Levin insisted that his plan was “not connected in any way” to Mr Netanyahu’s trial.

Critics accused the government of declaring war on the legal system, warning that the plan will upset the checks and balances limiting the government’s power and undermine Israel’s political institutions by giving absolute power to the most right-wing coalition in the country’s history.

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