The Israeli army has been redeployed in a Palestinian area east of Bethlehem, in a step believed to serve as a prelude to connect illegal settlement blocs in Hebron, with others in Jerusalem, a researcher said on Tuesday.Suhail Khalilia, head of the settlement monitoring unit at The Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ), said, according to WAFA, that redeploying Israeli soldiers in Esh Gherab aims to connect the illegal settlement of Tekou with Har Homa settlement, in Jerusalem.

Khalilia warned that Israel could relocate parts of the Israeli Civil Administration from Gush Etzion settlement bloc to Esh Gherab military site.

On Monday, Israeli daily Haaretz said that a permanent garrison has already returned to Esh Gerab, referred to as Shdema outpost, which served as a lookout post during the second Intifada. However, Israeli army forces decided it was no longer needed, and abandoned it in 2006.

Five months later, Israeli authorities issued orders to build a military watchtower, a move to assert Israeli control over the area, said Khalilia.

Beit Sahour Municipality decided to turn the abandoned site into a hospital, while the Women in Green organization sought to turn it into a new Jewish settlement, Haaretz added.

Khalilia said the municipality attempted to build a hospital and to develop a national park, a cultural and sports center at the site of the abandoned outpost, but the plan was obstructed due to repeated attacks by Jewish settlers.

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