The Israel Defense Force's Central Command has decided to cancel the military escort for Palestinian children on their way to school in the area south of Hebron in the West Bank, Haaretz has learned.
The military escort, which was introduced about a year ago, protected the children from repeated attacks by Israeli settlers near the Maon and Havat Maon settlements.
The escort was canceled Wednesday following the murder Sunday of three young settlers from the region at the Gush Etzion intersection, because settlers began to gather in groups on the roads and the IDF is reluctant to clash with them.
Palestinian and diplomatic sources told Haaretz that they feared revenge acts in the area following the murder. They reported that a group of settlers had gathered in the Havat Maon area near Khirbat Tawana.
The road to Khirbat Tawana is closed to Palestinian vehicular traffic, so the children of the area have to walk to the school there. Because the children are afraid of the settlers, members of the Christian Peace Teams (CPT) used to accompany them as protection until about a year ago, but the peace activists were attacked and beaten by settlers several times while escorting the children.
A Machsom Watch activist raised the issue of the settlers' attacks on the children in the Knesset's Committee for Children's Rights last year, and the committee ordered the IDF to ensure a permanent escort for the children.
Since then the IDF and Israeli police officers have alternately escorted the Palestinian children to school.
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