Settlers seek takeover of East Jerusalem area

Mon Jun 1, 2009 5:36am EDT
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By Joseph Nasr

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli settlers are waging court battles to evict dozens of Palestinians from homes in an East Jerusalem neighborhood, a move threatening to widen Israel's rift with U.S. President Barack Obama over settlements.

They are trying to reclaim plots of land in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood which they say were owned by Jews before Israel's creation in 1948. They have already won property rights to six Arab homes, whose residents were subsequently evicted.

Palestinians and an Israeli rights group say settlers are trying to evict a further 27 Arab families from 28 buildings.

"Stop ethnic cleansing," reads a sign erected outside the home of Maher Hanun, a 51-year-old father of three, who faces a July 19 deadline to evacuate the structure in Sheikh Jarrah, near the walled Old City of Jerusalem.

Such acts could cloud Israel's relations with its main ally, the United States.

Obama, who is to address the Muslim world in a speech in Egypt Thursday, renewed a call for a halt to settlement activity during talks last week with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Settlers have moved into six Arab buildings in Sheikh Jarrah, home to consulates and trendy restaurants. Armed men guard the buildings where settlers have hoisted Israeli flags to assert Jewish dominance.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed not to accept limits on building of Jewish enclaves within Jerusalem, including the Arab east. He has also rebuffed U.S. calls for a full settlement freeze in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.   Continued...