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Palestinians prevent Israeli demolition of cemetery wall in East Jerusalem

Aug. 21, 2017 5:28 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 22, 2017 10:11 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli bulldozers on Monday morning attempted to demolish the wall of a Palestinian cemetery in occupied East Jerusalem, though local sources told Ma’an that a group of Palestinians managed to prevent the demolition from taking place.

Mustafa Abu Zahra, head of the committee for the preservation of Islamic cemeteries in Jerusalem, told Ma’an that an Israeli bulldozer attempted to demolish a wall on the western side of the al-Shuhada cemetery, which is an extension of the al-Yusifiya cemetery located at the Lion’s Gate entrance of the Old City.

According to Abu Zahra, the attempted demolition was part of an ongoing campaign by the Israel Land Authority (ILA) to level the lands of the cemetery in order to build a national park. ILA workers, he said, had put up signs and construction tape in and around the cemetery prior to the attempted demolition on Monday.

Abu Zahra noted that while Palestinian civilians prevented any damage to the actual cemetery walls, the bulldozer did destroy part of a smaller peripheral barrier surrounding the walled off cemetery.

Neither an Israeli police nor ILA spokesperson were immediately available for comment on the reports.

National park projects of the ILA have long threatened the Palestinian cemeteries surrounding the Old City in East Jerusalem.

In addition to the al-Shuhada cemetery, which houses the graves of people killed by Israeli forces in the 1967 war -- after which Israel illegally occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Bab al-Rahma cemetery has been subject to demolitions after Israeli authorities announced plans to seize parts of the cemetery for a national park trail in 2015.

While Israel officially annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, according to Palestinians and the international community, the city has remained an intricate part of the occupied Palestinian territory and would be considered the capital of any future Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution.

The fate of Jerusalem and its holy sites has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the "Judaization" of East Jerusalem.

The United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee adopted a resolution last month reaffirming the international body’s non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem, and condemned Israeli policies in the Old City.

The resolution referred to Israel as an “occupying power” in East Jerusalem, and stated that UNESCO “regrets the failure of the Israeli occupying authorities to cease the persistent excavations, tunneling, works, projects and other illegal practices in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, which are illegal under international law.”

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