Some 1,600 trees in the Dudaim forest near Omer have been vandalized, Jewish National Fund foresters said yesterday.

The foresters said the destruction, which spanned an area of some 15 acres, was methodical, with the lower parts of the trees partially sawn through. Damaged in that manner, trees remain standing but quickly dry up, die and collapse.

The JNF has filed a complaint with the police.

Omer Mayor Pini Badash said he firmly believed Bedouin living in the area were responsible.

"The trees were vandalized last night in an area within Omer's jurisdiction that is meant to be turned into a golf course," said Badash. "The damage is enormous. The entire terrain was destroyed, and it will take a long time to recover from the vandalism."

"There is a fight over state land in the Negev," he added. "More than 10,000 trees have been uprooted by Bedouins in the last year alone. I accused the Bedouin residents. I know the pattern and their method, and it has all happened before. We recently began evicting the Tarabin tribe from near Omer, and this might be in revenge. We'll plant 10 trees for each uprooted one."

A senior police source told Haaretz that in recent years, some indictments have been filed against Bedouins who carried out similar acts in retaliation for the demolition of their homes. "We're not ruling out this direction and are thoroughly investigating the possibility," he said.

Ibrahim al-Waqili, chairman of the unrecognized villages council, rejected Badash's accusations out of hand.

"In Bedouin tradition, you can't damage trees," he said. "A tree is something you grow, you can't uproot it. Badash's accusations are unfounded. He always blames the Bedouins, and he's doing that to incite the Jewish street against them. This shouldn't be allowed to happen."