Jerusalem mayor says he’ll evacuate illegal settler house, demolish illegal Palestinian houses

By Amy Teibel, AP
Thursday, February 4, 2010

Settler house to be evacuated in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM — The Jerusalem mayor has agreed to evacuate a Jewish settlers’ house built illegally in the heart of a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood — but also plans to demolish dozens of Palestinian buildings erected without permission in the area, his spokesman said Thursday.

Sovereignty over east Jerusalem and its Old City holy sites is one of the most explosive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Evacuations and demolitions on either side of the political divide have sparked violence in the past.

Also Thursday, a roadside bomb exploded near a convoy of Red Cross vehicles driving through northern Gaza, blowing out the windows of one car but injuring no one, a spokesman for the group said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who opposes sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians in any final peace deal, had tried to buck an evacuation order against the seven-story structure, built in 2004 in east Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood by an ultranationalist settler group.

But the attorney general’s office backed the order, and forced Barkat to drop his resistance.

Barkat announced in a statement released Thursday that he would evacuate the structure, named after the convicted U.S. spy Jonathan Pollard. The statement also said Barkat had been “forced to take action to carry out all the demolition orders in the Silwan neighborhood.”

The municipality said not all of the 200 Palestinian structures set for demolition were homes but it did not have an accurate breakdown.

Palestinians say they cannot obtain building permits from Israeli authorities, and argue the planned demolitions are meant to assert Israel’s control over the city.

“This is a provocation that sabotages the peace process,” said Rafiq Husseini, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “No peace process can survive and no negotiations can begin while people’s homes in Jerusalem are being demolished.”

Jerusalem is one of the most intractable issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of the conflicting claims. Israel annexed east Jerusalem immediately after capturing it from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims the entire city as Israel’s capital, but the international community does not recognize the Israeli claim.

The Palestinians want east Jerusalem for their future capital.

The four-car convoy carrying International Red Cross staff was driving in Gaza toward Israel’s Erez border crossing when a roadside bomb exploded near the vehicles, said Iyad Nasr, a spokesman for the Red Cross in Gaza.

The foreigner staffers were unharmed and dropped off at the border post, Nasr said.

The blast, which took place about half a mile (one kilometer) from the frontier, ripped a crater in the ground about three feet (one meter) across and two feet (half a meter) deep. An AP reporter at the scene saw glass from broken car windows scattered on the side of the road.

Hamas security officials said police pursued a car seen fleeing the scene.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

A Hamas official, Ehab Ghussein, said old Israeli ordnance might have exploded, although that appeared unlikely. The Israeli military said it had no involvement in the incident.

Palestinian militants have targeted foreigners working in Gaza in the past.

The Hamas-allied Popular Resistance Committees group was the prime suspect in a 2003 bomb attack on a U.S. Embassy convoy that killed three U.S. Marine guards. That bombing took place near the site of Thursday’s explosion.

Last June, Hamas security found what appeared to be explosives buried in a sand dune next to the route taken at the time by former President Jimmy Carter. It was unclear whether Carter was the target.

Associated Press writers Karin Laub and Dalia Nammari contributed to this report from Ramallah, West Bank, and Rizek Abdel Jawwad from Gaza City, Gaza Strip.

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