Israeli settler organisations have been given the green light by the Israeli government to take over a number of East Jerusalem homes belonging to Palestinians, a Palestinian presidential legal adviser said on Sunday.
Ahmad Ruweidi said the Israeli government had waited until the timing was right politically to implement court decisions evicting Palestinians from a number of homes near the Old City.
An eviction order for the Silwan house of the Sumarin family on November 28 is the beginning of a campaign against Palestinian properties, he said in a press statement.
Their house, declared absentee property and transferred by the government to the Jewish National Fund subsidiary Himnuta in 1991, lies at the entrance of the East Jerusalem neighbourhood and adjacent to the controversial Israeli-built City of David tourist site.
Ruweidi said the eviction would be followed by the takeover of houses belonging to the Palestinian Zalloum family in the Old City, which has also been deliberated by Israeli courts for decades.
Settlers groups will offer high prices for the properties, and raid the house with troops if families do not comply, he said.
The Israeli government helps transfer ownership of Palestinian homes to settler organisations, he explained.
Legal scholars say the the Absentee Property Law enables Jewish individuals or associations to claim rights to property allegedly owned prior to 1948, while not recognising similar Palestinian claims.
Silwan families have lost a number of homes to demolitions and evictions by Israeli forces. Jewish settlers illegally built the seven-story building Beit Yonatan in Silwan, and a number of court orders decreeing its eviction have never been implemented.
Israel insists that Jerusalem is its ‘eternal and indivisible’ capital, and annexed the city’s eastern sector after the 1967 war in a move never recognised by the international community.
For Palestinians, East Jerusalem is the capital of their state.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces entered Hebron overnight Sunday and raided the home of a prisoner released in the October 18 exchange deal between Hamas and Israel.
Local witnesses said that Israeli forces issued summons to Hani Jabir to report to Israeli intelligence for questioning.
The Jabir family home was also raided a week ago by soldiers, family members added.
Jabir, 35, was serving a life sentence in Israel jail after he was charged with killing a resident of the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba that abuts Hebron in the southern West Bank.
Media reports said on Sunday that dozens of settlers hurled rocks at Jabir’s house and had to be restrained by Israeli soldiers.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police intercepted clashes that broke out after the incident on Saturday.
Last week, in a string of incidents, Israeli forces raided the homes of seven prisoners released as part of the exchange deal.
Nearly all were issued summons by soldiers to appear before Israeli intelligence officials.
Hani Jabir was among 450 male and 27 female prisoners released from Israeli jails in the first phase of an October 18 exchange deal which saw captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit released by Hamas.
In the second phase of the agreement, Israel pledged to release 550 further prisoners in two months, a process Hamas officials say has been guaranteed by Egypt.
l A top US diplomat held emergency talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders over two days regarding plans for a Palestinian unity government.
A spokesman for the US consulate in Jerusalem confirmed that Deputy Secretary of State William Burns would meet President Mahmud Abbas on Sunday and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday.
He was unable to provide any other details about the agenda for the talks.
The visit was an ‘urgent’ mission ahead of a meeting at the end of this week between Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal that will finalise plans for the implementation of a reconciliation deal.
The terms of the implementation have already been hammered out over a series of secret meetings in Cairo, according to Palestinian officials, but will be announced during the Abbas-Mishaal summit.
The reconciliation deal signed in May calls for the formation of an interim government of independents that will pave the way for legislative and presidential elections by May 2012.
Until now, Abbas’ reported insistence on maintaining his current prime minister Salam Fayyad, who is well-regarded by the international community including Washington, had proved a sticking point.
Fayyad himself has said publicly that he does not want to be an obstacle to the reconciliation process, and Abbas has reportedly agreed to drop him in favour of a consensus candidate.
That should allow the long-time rivals to begin implementing the rest of the deal, but has raised concerns among US and Israeli officials.
Israel has criticised Abbas for seeking reconciliation with Hamas, and Washington, which designates the Islamist group a terror organisation, responded cautiously to the deal when it was signed in May.
Burns was expected to deliver a strong warning to Abbas that Washington would cut funding to the Palestinians if the government failed to adhere to principles drafted by the international peacemaking Quartet.
The group has said any Palestinian government must renounce violence, agree to abide by previously signed agreements with Israel and accept Israel’s right to exist.
Egyptian officials are trying to secure a deal under which the new government would only be required to accept the Oslo Accords.
The make-up of the new government has yet to be revealed, but it is expected to consist of unaffiliated technocrats, in a bid to placate both parties and to avoid the loss of international funding.
The newspaper said Burns, the number-two ranking official at the US State Department, was being dispatched after Netanyahu warned that Israeli security forces would end cooperation with their Palestinian counterparts if the new government failed to adhere to the Quartet principles.