European Powers Tell Israel to Halt Settlement Expansion in the West Bank

The joint statement comes as tensions mount in East Jerusalem ahead of a hearing that could see Palestinian families evicted from Sheikh Jarrah

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Buildings in the Har Homa neighborhood in Jerusalem, in January.
Buildings in the Har Homa neighborhood in Jerusalem, in January.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain urged Israel on Thursday to halt settlement-building in the West Bank.

The joint statement came as tensions mounted in East Jerusalem ahead of a hearing that could see Palestinian families evicted from Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood where Jewish settlers backed by an Israeli court have taken over some homes.

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"We urge the government of Israel to reverse its decision to advance the construction of 540 settlement units in the Har Homa E area of the occupied West Bank, and to cease its policy of settlement expansion across the Occupied Palestinian Territories," the European nations said.

"If implemented, the decision to advance settlements in Har Homa, between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, will cause further damage to the prospects for a viable Palestinian State."

On Thursday night, police arrested 15 Palestinians in clashes between Palestinians and Jews in Sheikh Jarrah on suspicion of rioting, unruliness, throwing stones and fireworks and attacking officers and civilians. The East Jerusalem neighborhood has become a flashpoint after the far-right, Kahanist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir relocated his office there in what he called a protest against police's failure to protect Jewish residents. 

Over the past week, dozens of Palestinians have gathered nightly for the evening meal breaking the Ramadan fast across from one of the buildings that settlers have moved into, where Ben-Gvir set up his makeshift, outdoor office. Minutes after the meal began, Ben-Gvir's supporters and Palestinian residents began to curse and shout at each other.

One of the Palestinians approached the group of Jews, one of whom sprayed the Palestinian with pepper spray. Palestinians then began to throw chairs, stones and whatever was on hand at the Jews who threw stones back, and were then forced to seek cover inside the building. Police tried to quell the violence for hours.

Two Palestinian men dismantled Ben-Gvir's makeshift office and tore the signs that had been placed there, but it was restored soon after. Over the course of the night, police said, passersby were assaulted near the light rail station and a nearby street.

Clashes intensified after young Palestinian men arrived at Sheikh Jarrah from Damascus Gate when Ramadan prayers ended overnight Thursday. Palestinians then torched a car belonging to a Jewish resident; three Jewish men came outside with guns drawn to wait for police, and one fired towards one of the attackers. No one was hurt by the gunfire. 

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