The Israeli Newspaper Maariv reported on Tuesday that the Israeli government plans to construct a settlement at Bab al-Zahera area, in the old city of Jerusalem.

The plan which was approved by West Jerusalem municipality, proposes constructing 30 thousand flats, and a synagogue, in the old city.

 

Maariv stated that the flats, which were proposed by the Israeli Housing Ministry, will be constructed on three Dunams, and will be also used for “recreation” proposes for 16 Jewish families living in the Islamic neighborhood in Jerusalem.  

Ori Shitreet, chief engineer at the Jerusalem municipality, initially rejected the project because it “conflicts with plans to preserve the old city”, but approved it later on and approved a decision to level 60 Palestinian homes in Silwan neighborhood in Jerusalem, in order to create “public gardens”.   

Shitreet, and after apposing the construction of the new Jewish neighborhood because its buildings will be higher than the walls of the old city, recommended recently to approve the project after the number of housing units were reduced from 30 to 21.

The Israeli Construction and Planning Committee approved the plan after rejecting the suggestions of Shitreet.

The Jerusalem municipality and the Planning Committee fear that such constructions in the old city will lead to a third Intifada.

Papi Alalu, member of Jerusalem municipality council, said that this project has political motives and is considered a “provocative” project.

“Such a plan for the Muslims is similar to desecrating al-Aqsa Mosque in the old city”, Alalu said, “it is similar to Sharon’s visit to the mosque in September 2000, which inflamed the Intifada”, he added.

Meretz member of Knesset, Ran Cohen, sent an urgent letter to the Israeli Housing Minister, Yitzhak Herzog, warning him that this plan is a barrel filled with powder which might explode and inflame Jerusalem, and destroy the fragile relations between Muslim residents of Jerusalem and the Jews.   

“It might create a political crisis in the Middle East”, Cohen added.

The ministry of housing responded to Cohen’s letter saying that the plan was already studied and approved in 2004.

Head of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah, said that this plan is an attempt to strangle al-Aqsa mosque, and cancel any Arabic and Muslim element in Jerusalem.

“This project kills any opportunity for peace” Salah said, “there is no peace without Jerusalem, Israel is constructing the Wall around the city, expelling the residents out, and now it intends to construct more settlements in the city”.

The plan was also slammed by Ekrima Sabri, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, (chief Moslem cleric) said that this plan proves that Israel does not want peace, and wants to empty the holy city from its Palestinian residents.

Sabri demanded that Arab countries to stand firm against these plans “which aim to cancel the Muslim and Arabic sides of the city”,  and appealed all Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Palestinian institutions in the city to counter this plan, adding that the Higher Islamic Committee will meet and discuss way to challenge the new plan.

Also, Hanna Ameera, member of the consecutive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, said that this plan aims to terminate any Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, and decide the future of the city before the final stage negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.

“They want to control the city”, Ameera said, “They want to force the Palestinian residents out and level hundreds of homes in Silwan, Anata, Beit Haneena and other areas to implement their colonial plan”, Ameera added.

Arab member of Knesset, Mohammad Barakeh, said that the Likud government did not stop its settlements projects and keeps proposing new projects for settlements in Jerusalem.

“The government did not stop its settlement activities in the West Bank”, Barakeh said, “they constructed the discriminatory wall in the West Bank, surrounded Jerusalem, and now they want to empty it from its Palestinian residents”, he added.  

“They planted the settlers in Hebron, and around it, they planted their settlement all over the occupied territories, and around Jerusalem and inside the old city”. 

Arab Mk, Wael Taha, sent an urgent letter to Herzog demanding him to bar the construction of the Jewish neighbourhood near Bab al- Zahera area east of Jerusalem.

“Such a project will spill innocent lives of Arabs and Jews”, Taha said, “It will drag the area to a new cycle of violence, and kill and chances for peace”.