190722 israeli forces
Israeli forces destroy a building in a Palestinian village of Sur Baher. Image Credit: AP

Occupied Jerusalem - Israeli regime work crews on Monday began demolishing dozens of Palestinian homes in an occupied east Jerusalem neighbourhood, in one of the largest operations of its kind in years.

The demolitions capped a years-long legal battle over the buildings, built along the invisible line straddling the city and the occupied West Bank. The occupation regime said the buildings were erected too close to its illegal West Bank wall. Residents say the buildings are on West Bank land, and the Palestinian National Authority gave them construction permits.

In the wake of a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for the demolitions, Israeli work crews moved into the neighbourhood overnight. Massive construction vehicles smashed through the roofs of several buildings, and large excavators were digging through the rubble.

According to the United Nations, some 20 people already living in the buildings were being displaced, while 350 owners of properties that were under construction or not yet inhabited were also affected.

Hussein Al Sheikh, head of the civil affairs department of the PNA, called Monday’s demolition a “crime” and demanded international intervention.

In Gaza, the territory’s Hamas rulers called for intensifying “resistance” to “the Zionist [colony] project.”

“The increase in the occupation [regime’s] crimes against the residents of the holy city is a result of total American support,” said Hazem Qassem, a spokesman for the group.

The Israeli regime captured east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war. The international community considers both areas to be occupied territory, and the Palestinians seek them as parts of a future independent state.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem and considers it part of its capital - a step that is not internationally recognised.

Israel built its wall in the early 2000s. The Palestinians say the structure is an illegal land grab because it juts into the West Bank in many places.

Sur Baher is one of those places. In negotiations with residents, the Israeli regime built the route of the structure in Sur Baher inside the West Bank to prevent dividing the village and disrupting life, according to court documents.

However, residents, claiming it is impossible to get Israeli building permits in east Jerusalem, began building the apartment buildings in the West Bank part of the village with permission from the PNA. Early this decade, the Israeli military ordered the construction to stop, claiming it could not permit high-rise buildings so close to the wall.

Israel’s Supreme Court this month rejected residents’ final appeal, clearing the way for the demolitions.

According to Ir Amim, an Israeli advocacy group that promotes equality and coexistence in the city, Israel has stepped up demolitions of unauthorised Palestinian properties in east Jerusalem.

It said Israel demolished some 63 housing units in the first half of this year, compared to 37 during the same period last year. Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem say it is nearly impossible to get a building permit from Israeli occupation authorities.