Palestinians, police clash at Jerusalem flashpoint
JERUSALEM // The UN chief Ban Ki-moon chastised Israel’s prime minister on Monday for Jewish settlements on Palestinian land and challenged Benjamin Netanyahu to show “leadership”.
Mr Ban said Israel’s recent settlement construction plans for East Jerusalem were “in clear violation of international law”.
The Jerusalem municipality two weeks ago approved plans for the construction of some 2,500 homes in Givat Hamatos, a development that would complete a band of Jewish housing in East Jerusalem and present another obstacle to the Palestinian goal of establishing a capital in the area.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed the city’s eastern half in a move not recognised internationally.
Palestinians seek to establish statehood in the three territories, while Israel considers Jerusalem its indivisible capital.
Mr Ban criticised Israel’s latest settlement growth plan after meeting Mr Netanyahu in Jerusalem as part of a visit to the region a day after western and Arab nations pledged US$5.4 billion (Dh19.82bn) at a conference to help rebuild the Gaza Strip after a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas. Half of that money is for Gaza and the rest in budget support for the cash-strapped Palestinian government, to be paid through 2017.
The Palestinian Authority had asked for $8.5bn, including $4bn for Gaza and $4.5bn to help cover its chronic budget deficit.
Mr Ban also stopped in Ramallah, where he met Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah.
The Givat Hamatos settlement is on occupied land on the south-east fringes of Jerusalem, close to the Palestinian West Bank city of Bethlehem.
The construction, which critics say would cut Palestinians off from Jerusalem, forming a ring of Jewish settlements around the southern flank of the city, has already been roundly denounced by the United States and the European Union.
Mr Ban said the plans were a “clear violation” of international law.
“This does not send the right signals and I urge the government of Israel to reverse these activities.”
Alluding to the 50-day Gaza war that ended with a truce on August 26, Mr Ban said that “after this difficult summer for Israelis and Palestinians, both sides need to take steps to build trust”.
Mr Ban will visit Gaza on Tuesday to see first hand what is required to rehabilitate the densely populated enclave of 1.8 million people, where around 20,000 homes were destroyed by Israeli shelling and airstrikes in the July-August conflict.
More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in the 50-day conflict, while 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel also died, making it the deadliest war fought with Hamas since Israel pulled settlers out of Gaza in 2005.
Peace talks between the sides collapsed in April, with the Palestinians frustrated by Israel’s ramped-up settlement building and Israel angered by the Palestinian Authority’s decision to form a unity government with Hamas.
Mr Ban urged both to return to negotiations on a two-state solution quickly, “with a readiness to make the tough and necessary compromises”.
The settlements issue has caused the breakdown of numerous rounds of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
“I am also deeply concerned by repeated provocations at the holy sites in Jerusalem. These only inflame tensions and must stop,” Mr Ban said.
He spoke hours after Israeli police clashed with Palestinian protesters at Al Aqsa mosque compound, the scene of the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada.
The site is holy to both Jews and Muslims and is an underlying cause of Israeli-Palestinian tension, which has heightened in Jerusalem since the Gaza conflict.
The clash after morning prayers came as demonstrators protested over Orthodox Jews going to the esplanade, which is holy to both Islam and Judaism.
The site is the scene of frequent clashes between police and Palestinian youths, who object to what they see as an attempted Jewish and Israeli takeover of the site that is administered by Jordanian and Palestinian Muslim authorities.
Monday’s visit to the area by the Orthodox Jews eventually went ahead without further incident, police said.
The Palestinian Authority denounced the visit as a “new act of ongoing provocation ... while Palestinians are being barred from entering the compound”.
* Associated Press with additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse
Updated: October 13, 2014 04:00 AM