JERUSALEM — Israel drew sharp international rebuke Monday after its forces began demolishing residential buildings in a neighborhood of East Jerusalem that, according to a 1993 agreement, is under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
Hundreds of Israeli police officers and soldiers arrived in the Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood in the predawn hours, forcibly evicting three Palestinian families and local and international activists before razing several multistory buildings containing 70 to 100 apartments, most of them still under construction.
Israel had deemed the buildings a security risk because of their proximity to its separation barrier, which runs through the area between Israel and the West Bank. Seven years ago, the Israeli army banned construction of all buildings within 250 meters of the barrier, which Israel erected as a security mechanism during the second intifada, the bloody Palestinian uprising against Israel in the early 2000s.
Israel routinely demolishes illegally built Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem and parts of the occupied West Bank under its direct control. Palestinian residents say that securing a building permit in those areas is nearly impossible and that they are forced to build illegally.
Wadi al-Hummus, however, sits on land that under the terms of the Oslo accords is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. All of the apartment buildings received building permits from the Palestinian Authority’s Planning Ministry.
Located on the southeastern flank of Jerusalem, Wadi al-Hummus borders several Palestinian villages, and local residents say it is the only way for them to naturally expand to house the growing population. Many of the apartments were slated for young couples.
Monday’s demolition, which came after a lengthy legal battle with Israeli authorities, has left activists concerned that it will set a precedent allowing the demolition of other Palestinian buildings in the West Bank that sit close to the barrier.
A statement from the European Union called Israel’s actions illegal under international law and said such policies “undermined the viability of a two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace.”
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement that the families, a total of 17 people, including nine children, would receive support but that “no amount of humanitarian assistance can replace a home or cover the massive financial losses sustained today by the owners.”
“Israel’s policy of destroying Palestinian property is not compatible with its obligations under international humanitarian law,” said U.N. agency said.
Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan responded on Twitter that “the spokespeople of the EU, as usual, bought into the lies of the Palestinians without any in-depth examination while spreading their bias. When illegal construction presents a security threat, Israel has the authority, including according to the Oslo accords, to enforce the law against it.”
He said the Palestinians purposely built close to the barrier, despite an order from the military commander not to do so.
“Where are the Palestinian people supposed to live? We are surrounded by the wall and by settlements,” he said. “The Israelis want to empty this area of all the Palestinian residents so they can expand their own neighborhoods.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the demolitions “a dangerous escalation” and blamed Israel’s actions on recent steps taken by the Trump administration that he said have buried “the Palestinian issue.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called the demolition a “war crime and a crime against humanity” and said the Palestinians would lodge a complaint in the International Criminal Court.
Sufian Taha contributed to this report.