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Israel besieges Bethlehem villages in search of stabbing suspect

Israeli soldiers are seen as they storm over Palestinians' homes and shops during an operation carried in West Bank [Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]
Israeli soldiers are seen as they storm over Palestinians' homes and shops during an operation carried in West Bank [Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]

Israeli forces continued to crackdown on Palestinian villages in the southern occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem on Saturday, in search for a man who allegedly stabbed and lightly injured a settler in the illegal Israeli settlement of Efrat southwest of Bethlehem Friday night.

According to the Israeli army, a Palestinian infiltrated a settler home in Efrat, stabbed an Israeli man, and fled from the scene.
According to Israeli media outlet Ynet, the 50-year-old man sustained light injuries in his back and neck.

There was a heavy presence of Israeli soldiers in several areas across Bethlehem that continued into Saturday morning, with reports of clashes erupting between Palestinians and Israeli forces overnight Friday.

Locals in the village of Wadi Rahhal – located just a hundred meters east of the Efrat settlement and also known as Khirbet Abdullah Ibrahim – told Ma'an news agency Friday that dozens of Israeli military vehicles stormed the village in the evening and conducted a house-to-house search, as Israeli helicopters hovered overhead.

An eyewitness told Ma'an via telephone on Saturday that while Israeli troops left Wadi Rahhal Saturday morning after searching the entire village, military checkpoints were installed at all roads connecting the village to Bethlehem and neighbouring villages.

Some residents, he said, were forced to commute to work on foot by hiking through fields due to the Israeli road blocks.

Israeli news sites also mentioned that Israeli forces set up checkpoints outside of the town of Beit Fajjar and the al-Arrub refugee camp a few kilometers further south.

The occupied West Bank saw an increase in military road closures since October 2015 when a wave of unrest erupted across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, leading to periodic closures of Palestinian villages, towns, checkpoints, and entire districts.

Restrictions in Bethlehem came as Palestinians in the holy city marked the occasion of Christmas. On Friday Israeli forces suppressed Bethlehem's "Santa Claus March," shooting tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at participants.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas released a statement Friday saying that:

Despite the Israeli occupation, our presence in our homeland and the preservation of our cultural and national heritage are the most important form of resistance in the face of the darkness of a foreign colonialist occupying power.

Read: Israeli rabbis launch war on Christmas tree

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