On Wednesday, authorities gave their initial approval to the construction of 200 new settlement homes. Speaking for the city of Jerusalem, Brachie Sprung said a private party would develop the commercial project and stressed that the new settlement in Palestinian territory had nothing to do with recent politics. She said that officials had not intended any provocation in giving approval at a time of escalating tension in the city.
"It's a private developer who owns the land, so, according to the law, he answered all the necessary requirements to build on it," Sprung said, adding that the committee hadn't considered the timing of the decision, coming as it did amid days of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters. She also said that city officials had approved an additional 174 homes for construction in an Arab neighborhood.
Israel regards Ramot as a Jewish neighborhood located within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries on land captured in a 1967 war and annexed to the city in a move never internationally recognized.
Palestinians and the international community, however, regard Ramot as a settlement, built mostly beyond the "green line" separating Israel from the West Bank. Ongoing settlement expansion has added to the frustrations of Palestinians, who want a viable state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
A fire discovered Wednesday morning at the mosque in the West Bank town of Al-Mueir (pictured) was extinguished immediately, according to the Palestinian news agency Maan, but was said to have consumed much of the first floor and caused damage to another. Initial suspicions rested on settlers, although Israeli police said a forensic team and a special "nationalist crime unit" were being hindered by protesters.
The mayor of Al-Mueir, Faraj al-Nasaan, cited a previous attack by settlers on another mosque in the same village, as well as repeated vandalism of vehicles, buildings and olive groves belonging to Palestinians. In the past, Israeli ultranationalists have said such attacks are reprisals, or a "price tag," for Palestinian violence and attempts by Israeli governments to curb settlement growth.
In Jerusalem recently, tensions have risen over access to one of the city's holiest sites, revered by Muslims as Nobel Sanctuary and Jews as Temple Mount. There have been a series of protests and violent police reprisals at the holy site. Over the weekend, Israeli police killed at least one protester.
mkg/ (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)