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UN SG calls East Jerusalem demolition plans illegal

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] on Wednesday criticized plans to demolish 22 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem [GlobalSecurity backgrounder], describing them as contrary to international law. The plans, called King's Garden, were approved Monday [YNet report] by the Jerusalem City Council [official website] and will remove the buildings in order to make way for an archaeological park in the neighborhood of Silwan, a mostly Palestinian neighborhood of 45,000 people. In addition to the demolition of the 22 homes, the plan would retroactively approve 66 others, which were initially slated for destruction due to their illegal construction. Ban described the plans as contrary to international law, under which East Jerusalem is considered occupied territory, and expressed concern for the settlement activities that are continuing in the area. Ban also stated that the plans would increase tensions in the city and threaten peace talks. The plans have also been criticized [Haaretz report] by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak [official website, in Hebrew] and the US State Department [official website]. The re-unified Jerusalem was declared the Israeli capital in 1980. East Jerusalem was under Jordanian control along with the West Bank until the 1967 war [NPR backgrounder], when Israel took control over the territory from Jordan and took the Gaza Strip [BBC backgrounder] from Egyptian control.

Last week, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] urged the Israeli government to stop demolishing Palestinian homes [JURIST report] found to be constructed illegally in the Occupied Territories [UNICEF backgrounder], which is considered by the UN to include East Jerusalem. AI cited incidents over the past five years where Israeli forces demolished Palestinian homes and schools, leaving more than 600 Palestinians homeless. According to AI, the demolitions violate the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) [text, PDF], which guarantees a right to housing without discrimination, and the Fourth Geneva Convention [text], which prohibits destruction of property without military necessity. According to the group, the UN has unsuccessfully called for Israel to put an end to the demolition practice on many occasions and estimates that some 4,800 demolition orders are pending. Property rights have been an invariable point of contention between Israel and Palestinians. In March, Ban called Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank "illegal" [JURIST report]. His statement came two weeks after Israel announced the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to establish the capital of their future state. Ban voiced his support for the proposed plan of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad [BBC profile] to build the institutions of an independent state by 2011 and called for the immediate resumption of peace talks to result in an independent Palestinian state within two years.

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