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Israel approves settler plans for Jerusalem

Feb. 7, 2011 6:52 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 9, 2011 11:19 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- The city council on Monday approved plans for construction of 16 new apartments by a Jewish settlement group in the Sheikh Jarrah district of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, a councillor said.

The move drew an angry response from the Palestinian Authority, for whom settlement construction is one of the bitterest elements of the conflict, and which scuppered the latest round of US-brokered direct peace talks.

Yosef Pepe Alalu, a city councillor with the dovish Meretz party, told AFP the municipality's building and planning committee approved two plans for the building of up to 16 housing units on two separate sites in Sheikh Jarrah.

"There were two plans filed, on both [sites] there are currently small houses" which are owned by Palestinians, he said. One is inhabited, while the other is empty.

"This approval is the first stage," he told AFP. The move still had to be rubber-stamped by an interior ministry committee. "It will be at least a year before we see anything."

A spokesman for the municipality said that the projects in question were "private and not municipal," and that permits were never issued on the basis of the applicant's "religion, color or creed."

But the Palestinian Authority issued a statement saying the city council's approval of the projects was more evidence of a "continued policy of ethnic cleansing, of uprooting humanity and of the imposition of facts on the ground."

Alalu agreed.

"This is the settlers and the right, together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and [Mayor] Nir Barakat, working together to Judaize this neighborhood," he said.

"The problem is that this is an invasion of a Palestinian neighborhood, this is not one of the Jewish neighborhoods that has been agreed will remain with Israel, like Gilo," Alalu said, referring to a large Jewish district in East Jerusalem.

Israeli activists working to stop creeping settlement activity in Sheikh Jarrah, just north of Jerusalem's Old City, said the move would see the demolition of the two buildings, one of which is home to three local families.

Avner Inbar of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement said the families, who live in the Im Haroun compound, had lost a legal battle with the settlers over ownership of the land six months ago.

"When the municipality says these are private projects and that it has only played a bureaucratic role, it is very misleading because it is Israeli law which has allowed for this land to be basically confiscated by the state of Israel," he said.

"This is an entirely new settlement and the vision is to connect it with other Jewish settlements in the area, to create continuity of Jewish building between west Jerusalem and Mount Scopus."

Israel captured the city's still mainly Arab eastern sector from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move not recognized by the international community.

Israel sees Jerusalem as its "eternal, undivided" capital and does not consider construction in the east to be settlement activity.

The Palestinians, however, want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and fiercely contest any actions to extend Israel's control over the sector.
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