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Israel plays for time on flashpoint Jerusalem evictions


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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement at the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) in Jerusalem, December 22, 2020. Yonatan Sindel/Pool via REUTERS

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By Dan Williams (NYSE:)

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel’s attorney-general secured a deferment on Sunday of a court hearing on planned evictions of Palestinians in Jerusalem, a session that had threatened to stoke more violence in the holy city and heighten international concern.

The government could now have some breathing room to try to defuse a tinderbox situation in Jerusalem, where the court case and friction during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan have led to clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police.

The Israeli Supreme Court had been due on Monday to hear appeals against the planned evictions of several Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, an area captured by Israel in a 1967 war.

A lower court had found in favour of Jewish settlers’ claim to the land on which the Palestinians’ homes are located, a decision seen by Palestinians as a bid by Israel to drive them from contested Jerusalem.

But in a last-minute legal move, the appellants asked the court to seek a legal opinion from Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, opening the way for Monday’s session to be postponed and the possibility he could argue against the evictions.

A spokesman for Mandelblit said the court agreed to receive a future submission from the attorney-general and that a new session would be scheduled within 30 days.

CLASHES

East Jerusalem tensions have spilled over into clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians around Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest mosque, at the height of the Ramadan fast month.

Whether further violence will erupt could also depend on another event scheduled for Monday – an annual march by Israeli flag-waving Jewish youth to Jerusalem’s Old City, whose population is largely Palestinian, to mark what Israel celebrates as Jerusalem’s reunification in 1967.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Israel views all of the city as its capital, including the eastern part that it annexed in a move that has not won international recognition.

On Saturday night, Islam’s holy night of Laylat al-Qadr, Palestinian youth threw stones, lit fires and tore down police barricades in the streets leading to the gates of the walled Old City as officers on horseback and in riot gear used stun grenades and water cannon to repel them.

A day earlier, the Israeli government played down any state involvement in the Sheikh Jarrah controversy, which the Foreign Ministry cast as a “real-estate dispute between private parties”.

That apparently did little to allay concern in Europe and among regional powers like Jordan and United Arab Emirates, which condemned Israel’s conduct around East Jerusalem.

As censure of Israel mounted among some members of U.S. President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party, the State Department on Saturday said it was “deeply concerned” and asked “authorities to approach (Sheikh Jarrah) residents … with compassion and respect”.

At a meeting of his cabinet on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no direct mention of the Sheikh Jarrah evictions case.

But he said that Israel firmly rejected pressure not to build in Jerusalem, a reference to opposition to construction on

contested land.

“I say also to the best of our friends: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do,” Netanyahu said.

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