Israel demolishes Palestinian homes in Jerusalem area
Israel demolished a number of Palestinian homes constructed near its separation barrier south of Jerusalem on Monday in a move that drew international condemnation.
Palestinian leaders slammed the demolitions in the Sur Baher area which straddles the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, but Israel defended them as essential to its security and stressed they had been approved by its supreme court.
UN officials and the European Union condemned the demolitions and called for an immediate halt to the policy.
Before dawn, hundreds of Israeli police and soldiers sealed off buildings in the area close to the Israeli separation barrier which cuts off the West Bank, an AFP journalist said.
Residents and activists were dragged out of homes, though most of the buildings under demolition orders — a total of 10 — were still under construction.
Earthmovers then demolished at least three multi-storey buildings.
An eight-storey building still under construction was later partially destroyed by explosives.
One man yelled “I want to die here”, after being forced out.
The owner of one demolished building, Akram Zawahra, said “they are destroying our dreams and the dreams of our children.”
“They won’t destroy our determination,” he said.
– Security concerns –
Israel says the buildings were constructed too close to the separation barrier and posed a security risk.
It has established a buffer zone around the barrier in the area of between 100 and 300 metres (yards), according to UN humanitarian agency OCHA.
OCHA says demolishing all 10 of the buildings would see three households of 17 people displaced and another 350 people affected.
The buildings were to include a total of 70 apartments, it said.
Palestinians accuse Israel of using security as a pretext to force them out of the area as part of long-term efforts to expand Jewish settlements and roads linking them.
They also point out that most of the buildings are located in areas meant to be under Palestinian Authority civilian control under to the Oslo Accords of the 1990s.
“What is painfully happening here is the biggest and most dangerous demolition operation outside of war operations,” Walid Assaf, the Palestinian minister in charge of monitoring Israeli settlements, said in a video from the site.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called on the “international community to intervene immediately to stop this aggression against our people”.
– ‘Stop this policy’ –
The European Union, however, urged Israel to immediately halt the demolitions and said: “This policy undermines the viability of the two-state solution.”
A group of diplomats, mostly from Europe, recently toured the area.
Nickolay Mladenov, UN envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said “Israel must stop this policy” and “no amount of humanitarian aid can compensate” the displaced.
Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. It later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.
On June 18, a 30-day notice was given by Israeli authorities informing of their intent to demolish the Sur Baher homes.
Residents fear another 100 buildings in the area in a similar situation could be at risk in the near future.
It is extremely difficult for Palestinians to receive construction permits from Israeli authorities in areas under their control, and Palestinians and rights activists say a housing shortage has resulted.