Israeli bulldozers destroyed three unfinished buildings on Tuesday in contested east Jerusalem, raising Palestinian charges that the municipality is resuming house demolitions after a temporary halt aimed at encouraging peace talks.
Jerusalem house demolitions are a volatile issue because of conflicting Israeli and Palestinian claims to the city’s eastern sector. Israel sees it as part of its city while Palestinians want it for their own future capital.
Washington has condemned demolitions in the past as damaging to peace efforts.
The municipality said the structures razed in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Isawiyeh on Tuesday were not homes, that they were illegally built and not populated. The demolitions were carried out by court order, the municipality said in a statement.
But Palestinian resident Basem Isawi, 48, an unemployed contractor, said one of the structures was his own unfinished home. He built it illegally, he said, spending about $25,000, because he knew the municipality would not give him a permit. He had been notified of the impending demolition but did not know when it was slated to happen, he said.
“We watched them destroy the house, and we couldn’t do anything,” Mr. Isawi said. Police said the demolitions were carried out without incident.
Neighbourhood residents said the second structure was also a house and identified the third as a warehouse.
Under international pressure to encourage peace talks with the Palestinians, Israel quietly halted house demolitions in Jerusalem late last year. Until Tuesday, no houses had been demolished since October.
A spokesman for the U.S. embassy would not comment on Tuesday.
Israel says it is only enforcing the law against building violations, but Palestinians say discriminatory planning practices make it impossible for them to get permits, leaving them no choice but to build illegally and risk demolition.
About a third of Jerusalem’s 750,000 residents are Palestinian. They have residency status in Jerusalem and receive Israeli social benefits, but do not hold Israeli citizenship.
They largely boycott municipal elections to avoid recognizing Israel’s hold on east Jerusalem.