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AFP: Palestinian family evicted from emblematic Jerusalem home

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JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israeli police evicted a Palestinian family from their east Jerusalem home at dawn on Sunday in the wake of a prolonged court battle with Jewish settlers and just two days before municipal elections.

Armed security forces surrounded the al-Kurd family’s house in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of mostly Arab east Jerusalem during and after the operation.

“They arrived at 3:30 in the morning. They broke into the house by smashing the door and forcefully threw us out, inhumanely,” Fawzia al-Kurd told AFP.

Foreign diplomats, many of whom live in Sheikh Jarrah, had expressed support for the Palestinian family in recent months, and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who was in Israel last week had protested against moves to expel them.

Foreign pro-Palestinian activists had camped out at the house for weeks in solidarity with the family, and police said seven of them were held for questioning on Sunday.

“They want to expel Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah. It is an escalation before the municipal elections,” said Hatem Abdelkader, an aide of Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad.

Much to the anger of Palestinian residents, police prevented access to the area around the house to all but the Jewish faithful heading to the site they believe is the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, a venerated high priest who lived in Jerusalem about 2,300 years ago.

The Kurd family has lived for 52 years in the house which has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance against the steady pressure of Jewish settlers seeking to take yet more terrain in east Jerusalem.

A senior aide of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas warned that the incident impeded the Middle East peace process, as Abbas and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni attended a meeting of the international Quartet mediators in Egypt.

“It is damaging peace… Obviously the right-wing people are trying to demolish all prospects of peace between us,” Rafiq al-Husseini said at a press conference in Sheikh Jarrah.

The Quartet — comprised of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia — urged Israel during Sunday’s meeting to halt Jewish settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land.

On July 16, the Israeli High Court ruled in favour of Israeli settlers, who were already occupying a wing of the house and were demanding the expulsion of the al-Kurd family from the property.

Abdelkader insisted that the fact the expulsion went ahead even though the decision is being appealed “demonstrates the problem is no longer legal, but political.”

The saga started with the turbulent creation of the Jewish state in 1948, when the family fled Israel to east Jerusalem, which was then under Jordanian control.

Eight years later, they and 27 other families were given houses by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

But in 1967, Israel captured east Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, eventually annexing it in defiance of international law and proclaiming the city its “eternal and undivided capital.”

After the war, a Jewish organisation registered under its name the title to three hectares (nearly seven acres) of land on which the house sits. The al-Kurd family says the 19th century Ottoman document on which the title is based is a fake.

About 10 years ago, a settler association bought the disputed title, and 10 Jewish families moved into the neighbourhood.

The al-Kurd family’s eviction came just two days before Israel holds municipal polls. In Jerusalem, the two leading candidates for mayor, Meir Porush and Nir Barkat, both spoke out in favour of settlements in east Jerusalem.