Work on east Jerusalem wall halted after Cabinet criticism

Slabs of the wall, each about 2.5m high and 2m wide, were placed by Israeli police between the Palestinian Jabel Mukaber and Jewish Armon Hanatziv neighbourhoods on Sunday.
Slabs of the wall, each about 2.5m high and 2m wide, were placed by Israeli police between the Palestinian Jabel Mukaber and Jewish Armon Hanatziv neighbourhoods on Sunday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

JERUSALEM • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has halted work on a controversial concrete wall between two east Jerusalem neighbourhoods, after criticism from several of his Cabinet ministers, according to Israeli media.

Work on the new wall had begun on Sunday, just as fear spread across Israel over a wave of Palestinian violence, and one clash resulted in the death of an Eritrean man mistaken by an Israeli mob as an attacker.

Israeli police placed six slabs of the wall, each about 2.5m high and 2m wide, between Palestinian Jabel Mukaber and Jewish Armon Hanatziv, effectively dividing the neighbourhoods.

Officials said the wall would eventually cover a 300m strip, stressing that it was being placed where "there is a history of stone and firebomb throwing at Jewish homes and cars".

But broadcaster and newspaper publisher Arutz Sheva said a Security Cabinet meeting on Sunday heard strong criticism of the barrier, led by Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Elkin, backed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon.

"It also won't bring security, and it must be removed immediately," urged Mr Katz, Arutz Sheva said.

Jabel Mukaber has been a hot spot in recent violence, in which 42 Palestinians and seven Israelis have died. Three residents of the village had killed three Israelis in two separate attacks in Jerusalem last Tuesday. On Saturday, a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by police after attempting to stab border police near Jabel Mukaber.

The Zionist Union, the centre-left party which leads the opposition to Mr Netanyahu's coalition, also criticised the building of the wall.

"Mr Netanyahu has lost the ability to keep the safety of Israel's citizens and Jerusalem's unity," it said.

Sunday night's violence that left the Eritrean dead came after an Arab-Israeli citizen stormed a bus station in the southern city of Beersheba with a gun and a knife, killing an Israeli soldier and wounding around 10 other people.

The gunman was killed and a security guard shot the 26-year-old Eritrean, thinking he was a second attacker. A mob also beat him, Israeli media reported.

Police said an investigation would find those behind the assault, adding that they "would not allow anyone to take the law into his own hands".

Israeli media described the man as an asylum seeker, like many Eritreans in Israel, though the authorities have not confirmed those details.

The violence has defied an Israeli security crackdown as well as international calls for both sides to calm tensions.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas' calls for peaceful protests have also failed to stop frustrated youths who are fed up with his leadership and Israel's right-wing government.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that Israeli and Palestinian leaders need to clarify the status of Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound, where alleged Jewish encroachment is a key cause of Palestinian unrest.

Mr Kerry is due to meet separately with both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas in the coming days, as well as Jordan's King Abdullah, who has previously acted as a mediator.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2015, with the headline 'Work on east Jerusalem wall halted after Cabinet criticism'. Print Edition | Subscribe