Tensions in east Jerusalem quarter over evictions

JERUSALEM — Israeli police on Sunday deployed across the flashpoint east Jerusalem district of Silwan after the city’s mayor raised the prospect of evictions at a Jewish building and an Arab home in the quarter.

Children in the mostly Arab neighbourhood threw stones but no major clashes were reported ahead of evictions that could come as early as Monday.

The affected buildings are a six-storey apartment block known as Beit Yonatan (House of Jonathan) and a former synagogue that is currently inhabited by an Arab family.

Israeli courts have issued eviction orders to the residents of both buildings but Mayor Nir Barkat said on Sunday he has tried to prevent the orders from being carried out.

“Since the beginning of my administration, I have been working to decrease the number of court orders against buildings in Jerusalem,” he said in a statement.

Barkat has called on the Israeli government to halt all demolitions in Jerusalem until he can carry out a major rezoning of Silwan that would retroactively legalise a number of Arab homes built without Israeli permits.

But the plan also includes the construction of a controversial archaeological park that would require the demolition of 22 Arab homes.

Arab residents say it is virtually impossible to secure Israeli permits to build in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. They are angry both about Barkat’s planned park and his refusal to evacuate Beit Yonatan.

But residents of the settler building, which was illegally constructed, also accuse Barkat of negligence, charging that he has held back on demolishing illegally-built Arab homes while targeting Jewish residents.

Settler organisation Ateret Cohanim has secured a court ruling ordering the eviction of an Arab family from a local home constructed inside a former Jewish synagogue.

But Barkat said on Saturday that he would direct police to carry out the evacuation of Beit Yonatan if the former synagogue was emptied.

Ateret Cohanim spokesman Daniel Luria called Barkat’s linking of the two eviction orders “a huge injustice and totally immoral.”

“Why the mayor is playing politics and connecting that with the House of Jonathan is hard to understand,” he told AFP.

“Now it seems that he’s linking the House of Jonathan with the synagogue that has nothing to do with the municipality at all, and he seems to be playing politics.”

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