Houses demolished in East Jerusalem 28Oct09 October 29, 2009

Aljazeera -  28 October 2009

demolished house2

Israeli authorities have torn down several Palestinian houses in occupied east Jerusalem on grounds that the structures were built illegally.

Gidi Schmerling, a Jerusalem municipality spokesman, said the affected houses and structures were in the neighbourhoods of Shuafat, Zur Baher, Silwan and Jabel Mukabar.

“All the houses were demolished in accordance with a court order,” he said on Tuesday in a statement to the AFP news agency.

The Palestinians have long accused the municipality of discriminating against them and making it virtually impossible to get legal permits for new homes or extensions to existing ones.

As a result, thousands of illegal structures were erected in recent decades with Israel issuing demolition orders and destroying dozens of houses each year.

Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, had vowed to crack down on illegal construction in the city, including east Jerusalem, whose fate is one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Earlier this year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for a halt to home demolitions in East Jerusalem.

Shift in balance

Threatened demolitions have also raised tensions in the eastern half of the city, with Palestinians holding regular protests and filing court cases.The United States, which is seeking to revive peace talks in the long-standing dispute, called the latest demolition exercise “unhelpful”.

An Israeli rights group, Ir Amim, criticised the demolitions as “an irresponsible step that could escalate the situation in the city and bring it to a new boiling point”.

Palestinians and human rights groups have condemned Israel’s demolition policy, accusing it of using the demolition to shift east Jerusalem’s demographic balance.

“International bodies and the United Nations Security Council should intervene to stop Israeli authorities from carrying out these criminal actions,” said Adnan al-Husseini, the Palestinian-appointed governor of Jerusalem.

A UN report in May showed that 1,500 demolition orders issued by the Jerusalem municipality were pending for illegal Palestinian dwellings.

The report said that if the orders were implemented, about 9,000 Palestinians would be displaced.

There are some 200,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem, alongside an estimated 250,000 Palestinians.

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