Ma'an News Agency
November 17, 2010 - 1:00am

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat presented a controversial new city planning policy for East Jerusalem to the public on Tuesday morning, as East Jerusalemites celebrated Eid Al-Adha with friends and family.

The re-zoning plan, according to a statement from the mayor's office, would take into account the "current unsatisfactory situation" and call for a freeze on all current demolition orders until the plan is approved and can go forward.

The plan would have to be approved by the government of Israel before it could go ahead.

Barkat's plan for occupied East Jerusalem includes demolishing several homes, a move that has been fuelling tensions in the flashpoint Holy City.

'Political interference limiting demolitions'

"At the moment, the prime minister's bureau and police are not permitting the demolition of homes," Barkat's spokesman quoted him as saying, after the mayor presented his re-zoning plan to the State Comptroller.

The comptroller, a government watchdog, has criticised the Jerusalem municipality for allowing rampant illegal construction across East Jerusalem in the last decade.

Barkat told the comptroller political interference and the reluctance of police to oversee municipal demolitions has meant only a few demolitions have been carried out this year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office had no immediate comment on Barkat's remarks, which come as the premier is trying to find a way to move forward with peace talks with the Palestinians, which broke down over Israeli settlement construction.

Netanyahu has also come under heavy international pressure for authorising building projects in Jewish neighbourhoods built in East Jerusalem.

Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state and oppose any attempts to extend Israel's control over the part of the city that was captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

The King's Garden project

At the heart of Barkat's plan is the so-called Gan Hamelech (King's Garden) project, in which 22 homes would be razed, while another 66 would be legalised in the Al-Bustan Palestinian neighborhood.

The 88 homes all had been slated for demolition because they were built without Israeli permits -- which are nearly impossible to obtain.

"Burying our heads in the sand on all issues concerning the eastern part of the city is no longer an option and I call Israel's government to enlist and adopt the new municipal policy that will substantially improve quality of life for residents of eastern Jerusalem," Barkat said.

The mayor added that after the Gan Hamelech project, the re-zoning project would be extended to four other Arab neighbourhoods in the city.

Residents prevent alternative plan

In the spring of 2010, residents of the community put together an alternative plan proposing a series of measures that would bring the number of forced evictions and demolitions planned by the Jerusalem municipality down to zero.

Days ahead of the announcement of the new policy, a spokesman for the municipality said he was not aware of the plan.

Community officials, observing the start of the Eid Al-Adha holiday, were unavailable for comment by phone.


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