JERUSALEM (AP) — Ultra-nationalist Israelis took over a four-story building in the heart of an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem on Thursday, raising fears of fresh violence in the tense area.
A small group of activists from the Ateret Cohanim settler organization moved into the rundown white stone building. It was the latest in a wave of settler advances since nationalist Jews began buying up properties in densely populated Palestinian areas two decades ago.
The building is located in Silwan, a rundown neighborhood that is home to several hundred Jewish residents and some 50,000 Palestinians. Israeli soldiers were guarding the latest wave of settlers.
"I have 11 people inside the house, where should I go?" said Jawaf Abu Sneineh, the only Palestinian resident who has still refused to vacate the building. He said he already paid the year's rent.
Abu Sneineh said his children were afraid of the Jewish settlers suddenly living above them.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war.
It subsequently annexed east Jerusalem in a move that is not internationally recognized. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. East Jerusalem, particularly the Old City and its sensitive holy sites, is often a flashpoint of violence.
Silwan is adjacent to the Old City, and Israel has developed an area there called the City of David, where Jewish tradition holds that King David established Jerusalem as Judaism's central holy city.
Jewish real estate deals in the contentious Silwan area have long been murky. Purchases are often made through intermediaries, which those involved says protects the Arab sellers from being attacked by their neighbors. Many cases end up in court, with Palestinians claiming the municipality and legal process are biased in favor of settlers.
Ateret Cohanim says it legally purchased the properties. Palestinian residents say they are being unfairly evicted and illegally bullied into leaving.
Daniel Luria, executive director of Ateret Cohanim, said there are now about 100 Jews living in five buildings in the Batan al-Hawa area of Silwan, where the settlers moved in on Thursday.
Tensions were high as male residents and children loitered in the streets, discussing the latest acquisition.
Abdallah Abu Nab, a resident, said Jewish settlers had been bothering him and his brother for weeks, filing eviction orders that can lead to fines and offering money to try and force them out.
Jerusalem's Arabs, while free to live wherever they want, say they often encounter resistance or discrimination when trying to buy or rent properties in Jewish areas in the city.
Past takeovers have led to clashes and violent Palestinian demonstrations.