In recent days police have removed the checkpoints set up near some East Jerusalem neighborhoods following the wave of terrorist attacks in the capital, local Palestinians report. The remaining roadblocks are mostly in Arab neighborhoods where Jews have moved in, including Ras al-Amud, Silwan and Jabal Mukkaber, as well as in locations that have seen violent protests.
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In another developments, permission to proceed with construction of a group of new housing units in the politically contentious Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo in East Jerusalem was put on hold on Monday, possibly in an attempt to avoid tension with the United States ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit there next week.
The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee has suspended proceedings on permits for 88 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo. According to a municipality source, the move was the result of an order originating from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The committee had been expected to consider the new units tomorrow, but the matter was apparently put on hold following the request. The Obama administration has been especially sensitive to Israeli construction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood since a diplomatic flap occurred in 2010 when Israel approved some 1,800 units in Ramat Shlomo while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel.
The municipality has formally denied that Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to the United States was the reason for the postponement of the session. The committee’s chairman, Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman, said the cause for the delay was administrative: The session was to be the committee’s first since the previous chair and deputy mayor, Kobi Kahlon, quit his post, and Turgeman said he wanted time to study the material.
For its part, Jerusalem city hall issued a statement saying, “The Jerusalem municipality continues to advance construction in all parts of the city for all of its residents. The plan will be brought [before the committee] at a later date.”
Regarding the East Jerusalem checkpoints, residents also have reported an easing of security inspections at the remaining checkpoints, making passage through them faster. But the remaining checkpoints continue to substantially interfere with normal routines, the residents say, blocking access to schools and hospitals in the eastern part of the city.
One of the neighborhoods where movement is still restricted is A-Tur, which has three hospitals and several large schools. Two roadblocks are positioned on the neighborhood’s main street.
Mahmoud Alian of the Red Crescent hospital in the neighborhood said traffic has been at a standstill as a result. “I’ve started to go on foot. It harms the work of the hospital. It harms the doctors and the patients.”
Last Friday, a terrorist committed a stabbing attack in Jerusalem, the first after two weeks of a relative lull in violence in the capital. Yesterday a Palestinian attacked a female tour guide near the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, and a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the Jerusalem District Court building in East Jerusalem. There were no injuries at the courthouse but damage was caused to a guard post at the site. The courthouse, along with the Justice Ministry building facing it, are heavily guarded and in recent years it has not been targeted.
A policy of stricter law enforcement in the eastern part of the city remains in force. Yesterday morning the municipality demolished a home built without a permit in Jabal Mukkaber. People had taken up residence in the building 15 days earlier, Palestinians said, but city officials said the building had still been under construction and been built on open land where construction was not allowed.
Palestinian merchants in the Old City and Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem claim they are suffering from a stepped up municipal enforcement drive that includes inspections and fines for infractions involving such marginal matters as signage and violation of no smoking regulations. Last week, the Income Tax Authority carried out a collection sweep in East Jerusalem.