Page last updated at 17:54 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 18:54 UK

Canadian settlement builders sued

Construction of Jewish settlement near the West Bank village of Bilin
The villagers of Bilin are seeking punitive damages of $2m

Palestinian villagers are suing two Canadian construction companies over their involvement in building a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.

The case, filed at a court in Montreal, accuses the firms of violating international and Canadian law.

The Palestinians are seeking a court order to halt building work.

The lawyer for the villagers says this is the first case in which a foreign private sector company has been sued for investing in West Bank settlements.

The two companies, both registered in the province of Quebec, could not be reached for comment.

'Blinking red light'

The Palestinian villagers accuse the companies of violating international and Canadian law by building on land belonging to the village of Bilin, and selling the homes to Israelis.

Palestinian and Israeli peace activists during a protest in Bilin (4 July 2008)
Bilin has been a focus for protests against the West Bank barrier
The building work is taking place on land seized from Bilin after Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, according to the legal papers.

The villagers argue that the construction work violates international war crimes laws that forbid an occupying power from transferring its own people into occupied land.

The villagers want the court to order the demolition of all the homes that the companies have built. They are also seeking punitive damages of nearly $2m (1m).

"My understanding is that it will serve as a blinking red light for any investors and corporations that are considering doing anything in the settlements," said Michael Sfard, the villagers' lawyer.

Bilin has been the scene of ongoing protests over the controversial barrier built by Israel in the West Bank, which cuts Bilin from most of its agricultural land.

In September, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the government to redraw its route near Bilin, accepting an appeal by residents. The decision has yet to be enforced.

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