Israeli bulldozers have demolished part a hotel in East Jerusalem to make way for 20 new homes for Jewish settlers. The destruction of the Shepherd Hotel has angered Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said Israel was destroying any chance of returning to peace talks by carrying out the demolition. Israel says it has a right to build homes in any part of the city. The Shepherd Hotel was built in the 1930s and was once home to Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who became an ally of Adolf Hitler in WWII.
Its current ownership is disputed – Israel says it belongs to a Jewish-American property developer but Palestinians say it was seized illegally after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. “By doing this, Israel has destroyed all the US efforts and ended any possibility of a return to negotiations,” said Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Mr Abbas. Attempts by the US to revive peace negotiations stalled last year, after Israel refused to end settlement building on occupied Palestinian land. “Israel has no right to build in any part of east Jerusalem, or any part of the Palestinian land occupied in 1967,” said Mr Abu Rudeina. The Palestinian governor of Jerusalem, Adnan al-Husseini, said it was the latest in a line of demolitions of historic buildings and accused Israel of “trying to erase any Palestinian identity from the city of Jerusalem”.
The US had criticised the project as far back as 2009, when building approval was granted. But Israeli officials said the demolition had been carried out legally and defended its decision. “This is something that every country does in its own domain without the necessity to give any report to any other government,” said the minister for national infrastructure, Uzi Landau. Nearly half a million Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
Syria on Tuesday blasted new Israeli military orders that pave the way for large-scale expulsions of Palestinians from the West Bank and warned the move was an “ethnic cleansing policy” in the occupied Palestinian territories. Under the new rules, which are to take effect on Tuesday, anyone caught in the West Bank without an Israeli permit could face expulsion within days or be sentenced to up to seven years in prison. This would include thousands of Gazans who have moved to the West Bank, foreign-born Palestinians married to West Bankers and foreigners who are in the West Bank on expired tourist visas. “This decision is the adoption of the ethnic cleansing policy and a step to the mass deportation aiming at emptying the land from its people,” a Syrian Foreign Ministry official said. “It also constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and human rights and disregard of the will and resolutions of the international community.
“Syria, while confirming the need for an urgent move at both Arab and international levels to condemn this decision and prevent its implementation, sees that it is extremely dangerous to continue providing immunity to Israel as this enables it to disdain international law and will of the whole international community,” the source added. His statement was carried by state-run Syrian Arab News Agency. The West Bank has attracted a growing number of foreign activists who have joined Palestinians in protests against Israeli military rule. In recent months, Israel seized two foreigners with expired visas in a West Bank town and then expelled them. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Arab League chief Amr Moussa on Monday condemned Israel’s decision and said after a set of talks in Damascus that the world had to take up an “urgent action” to stop the measure.
“For as long as this lasts, things will get worse, and it will be more difficult to bring true peace” to the region, Mussa said, adding that the Arab League council would hold an “urgent meeting” on Tuesday to discuss the issue. Israel seized the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War. It is expected to form the main part of the Palestinians’ promised future state.