x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Israel marks Jerusalem 'reunification day' with $100m investment package

Israeli PM Netanyahu vows he will not divide the city, despite international pressure for Israel and the Palestinians to share Jerusalem. and announces funding for the city to boost tourism, grants for students and incentives for bio-technology companies.

JERUSALEM // Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday reaffirmed his intent to keep Jerusalem the "undivided capital" of Israel, authorising a $US$100 million (Dh367m) investment package for the disputed holy city.

Speaking at a special meeting of his cabinet held inside the Old City walls, Mr Netanyahu repeatedly vowed that he would not divide the city, despite international pressure for Israel and the Palestinians to share Jerusalem.

Israel captured East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, later annexing it in a move not recognised by the international community. The state of Israel marks the city's "reunification" on Jerusalem Day, which this year falls on June 1.

"The city was united 44 years ago, and we returned to our ancestral lands. Since then Jerusalem has flourished," Mr Netanyahu said at the beginning of the cabinet meeting.

"Today we are strengthening its foundations and assisting its residents," he said in announcing the multi-year package, which includes funding to boost tourism, grants for students and incentives for bio-technology companies.

"It is important the entire world knows that the Jewish people and our friends around the world stand together, faithful to Jerusalem and our heritage, steadfast in their positions, insisting on our security and extending a hand in genuine peace to our neighbours," Mr Netanyahu said, adding that, "the government and the people are bound as one to build up Jerusalem, the heart of the nation."

Palestinians describe the Israeli government's projects in Jerusalem as attempts to strengthen Israeli control over the eastern part of the city.

Since 1967, it has established settlement neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem and even passed a law in 1980 stating Jerusalem was Israel's "eternal and indivisible" capital.

In other comments by cabinet members yesterday, Israeli ministers slammed Egypt's decision to reopen its Rafah border crossing with Egypt, warning that militants would be able to move weapons and people freely through the crossing.

Israel has warned that reopening the crossing, which Egypt closed to almost all traffic in 2007, would boost Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli infrastructure minister Uzi Landau told reporters: "The free movement of people and cargo that will take place is simply going to be used in a more intensive manner to bring in ammunition and military equipment and moreover the free movement of terrorists."

The closure of the Rafah four years ago came despite an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2005 that saw the European Union agree to place monitors at the border crossing. Although Cairo was not a signatory to the accord, Israeli ministers yesterday accused Egypt of violating the deal by reopening the border.

Finance minister Yuval Steinitz said Egypt's decision to reopen the crossing over Israel's objections showed that the Jewish state could not rely on other nations to protect its borders. It also was proof, he said, that Israel needed to maintain control over the Jordan Valley under any peace agreement with the Palestinians, describing the 2005 border deal as "not worth the paper it's written on."