The takeover comes at a time when the U.S. is struggling to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. The international community, led by the U.S., has urged Israel to refrain from any steps that could raise tensions in east Jerusalem, including evictions and house demolitions.
East Jerusalem’s Old City was captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War. The Palestinians claim the eastern half of the city for their capital.
Over the years, about 2,000 Israeli settlers have moved into buildings Jews bought in established Arab sections of east Jerusalem, including the Old City, to make it harder to partition the city.
Before dawn Thursday, more than two dozen settlers from the Ateret Cohanim settlement group entered the building in the Muslim Quarter, said Nasser Quirresh, one of the evicted tenants. He said 90 members of his extended family live in the house, which is just a few dozen yards (meters) away from the main Muslim and Jewish shrines — the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall.
Quirresh said his family has been renting the house for the past 60 years, and that the owner is living abroad.
The family’s lawyer, Samer Zoabi, said the settlers bought the building in 1987, and went to court repeatedly to get the Quirresh family evicted. Zoabi said the courts ruled each time in favor of the tenants.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said authorities were trying to determine whether the settlers held a proper eviction order.
U.N. envoy Robert Serry said in a statement that he deplored “today’s unacceptable action by armed Israeli settlers who forcibly took over a building, which is home to nine Palestinian families.”
He urged the Israeli authorities to remove the settlers from the property and allow the Palestinian tenants to return.
In the statement, Serry called on Israel to “refrain from provocative actions in east Jerusalem.”
Quirresh said he and most of the other members of his family were at a wedding when the settlers, accompanied by police, entered the building by force. He said his older brother, wife and children remain inside the building, refusing to leave.
The other family members took up positions in the narrow alley outside the building, sitting on chairs. Neighbors brought them sandwiches. Meanwhile, settlers installed security cameras and barbed wire on the roof of the two-story building.
Zoabi said he was seeking a court order to get the settlers evicted.
The Ateret Cohanim spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment. In addition, some 190,000 Israelis live in Jewish neighborhoods that have been built in east Jerusalem since 1967.
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