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Lawyer: Abandoned West Bank church compound was not sold to settlers

May 23, 2015 11:44 A.M. (Updated: May 23, 2015 10:05 P.M.)
HEBRON (Ma'an) -- A Swedish-owned church compound between Bethlehem and Hebron has not been sold to settlers contrary to media reports on Friday, the church's lawyer told Ma'an on Saturday.

Israeli news source Haaretz reported Friday that right-wing Israeli Aryeh King had purchased the abandoned church compound from the church's owners three years ago in order to build a settlement outpost.

However, local sources refuted the report, saying that such a sale had not been made and that the current owners are in fact carrying out refurbishments to turn the compound into a hostel.

"The church owns the compound, and is fixing up the existing building to serve as a hostel for Christians, Muslims, and Jews who are passing through," the church's Swedish lawyer Ari Souko told Ma'an.

The lawyer also reportedly told Muhammad Ayyad Awad, a spokesman of a local popular committee in nearby village Beit Ummar, that the church "has not been sold to settlers," and that the Haaretz report was "far from the truth."

Awad told Ma'an that the compound had been built decades after the owners bought 35 dunams (9 acres) of land from Beit Ummar resident Abd al-Latif Jabir Ikhlayyil.

The building then served as a hospital offering free medical treatment to local residents. The hospital continued to operate until the early 1980s but closed due to financial difficulties. Since then the building has been deserted, Awad said.

While Haaretz reported Friday that Aryeh King had recently started to refurbish it ahead of establishing a new settlement outpost in the area, Souko told Ma'an that such refurbishments were being carried out and funded by the church for the planned hostel.

Although the church remains in Swedish hands, the Haaretz report reflects a current trend in Israeli settlement practices, particularly in occupied East Jerusalem.

Aryeh King is founder and director of Israel Land Fund, an organization that buys Palestinian property and homes for resale to Jews with the aim of 'Judaizing' occupied East Jerusalem as well as Palestinian neighborhoods in Israel.

The church lies in a sensitive location, which if settled, would see Israeli settlements stretch all the way from the Gush Etzion settler bloc south of Jerusalem to the cluster of settlements around Hebron.

Currently Karmei Tzur is the only large settlement between the two.

Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem face ongoing threat of being pushed out by groups such as Israel Land Fund.

While Israeli government policies make it nearly impossible for Palestinian residents to obtain building permits, Jewish residents frequently take over Palestinian buildings with the protection of Israeli security.
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