JERUSALEM (NYTIMES) - Israeli bulldozers arrived before dawn Monday (July 22) and began clawing at the first of 10 Palestinian apartment blocks that were slated for demolition because the government said they were illegally built too close to its security barrier in a Palestinian area of the West Bank abutting Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
Israel's minister of strategic affairs and public security, Gilad Erdan, said in a statement that the government had gone ahead with the "demolition of the illegal and mostly uninhabited buildings" after an Israeli court ruled that they constituted "a severe security threat and can provide cover to suicide bombers and other terrorists hiding among civilian population."
United Nations officials had appealed to Israel to call off the demolition, which Palestinian officials condemned as a "war crime" and "ethnic cleansing".
The office of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority called it "a serious escalation against our defenseless Palestinian people" and called for international intervention.
UN officials said that 17 Palestinians, including an elderly couple and five children, were being displaced by the demolitions. Footage from the early morning showed distraught Palestinians being led away by security forces.
The buildings, most of which were still under construction, sit in West Bank territory, in the Wadi Hummus neighborhood on the edge of southeast Jerusalem. They went up with the approval of the Palestinian Authority, which technically has jurisdiction there.
But they also sit on the Jerusalem side of the security barrier in an area the Israeli military had declared a buffer zone and prohibited building in, citing security grounds.
In total, the 10 mostly unfinished buildings contain around 70 apartments, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In all, around 350 people are said to be at risk of property loss.
Citing residents, Ir Amim, a nonprofit that calls for an equitable solution for Jerusalem as a dual capital of Israel and a future Palestine, said the demolition could be a harbinger, putting about 100 additional buildings constructed under similar circumstances at risk.