U.S. Pressuring Israel Not to Evict Arabs in East Jerusalem Neighborhood

Attorney for families said Secretary of State Clinton is closely following the matter.

The U.S. government and other foreign governments, including Turkey and a number of European countries, have asked Israel over the past few days to prevent the eviction of Palestinian families who have been living for over 50 years near the tomb of Simon the Just in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarra neighborhood. Jewish settlers have moved into the compound.

During the visit of U.S. presidential envoy George Mitchell to Israel over the weekend, a U.S. consulate representative came to the area to speak to the families. The families' attorney, Saleh Abu-Hussein, said Saturday he was told that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is closely following the matter.

About six months ago, following an eviction order against one of the families, the United States lodged an official protest, asking that the eviction be stayed against that family and the others. Despite the involvement of Palestinian authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the family was evicted.

The Foreign Ministry said that the decision to evict the family was made in a civil judicial procedure, and the government did not have the authority to interfere.

Abu-Hussein said he is still waiting for a response from the settlers to his offer to purchase the homes in question from them and leave them in control of the traditional burial cave of Simon the Just. The proposal was made after the High Court of Justice rejected his request for an injunction against the eviction of the families. The request was based on a document found in a Turkish archive that Abu-Hussein says sheds doubt on ownership, dating back to Ottoman times, by the "Sephardic Jewish Committee" of 30 homes in the neighborhood.

Abu-Hussein showed Haaretz a land-registration document that contains no reference to the committee. But the Sephardic association's representative, attorney Ilan Shemer, said all ownership documents are authentic, meaning the Sephardic association is within its rights to transfer usage to the settlers.