JERUSALEM, Feb 14 (Reuters) – A far-right Israeli lawmaker set up a makeshift office in the disputed East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Monday in what he called a show of support for Jewish settlers there.
Israeli police said they had increased their presence in the flashpoint area, which has become an emblem of what Palestinians see as an Israeli campaign to force them out of East Jerusalem.
Protests against forced evictions in Sheikh Jarrah led to a surge in fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, last May.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, a member of the far-right Religious Zionism party, brought an open tent with a table and some signs in what he said was an effort to help protect the Jewish settlers.
Palestinian families have lived in the neighbourhood since the 1950s after they were forced from their homes or fled in the war that surrounded Israel’s creation. The settlers claim the homes were owned by Jews before the 1948 war.
“I was born in this house,” said Palestinian Fatimah Ziyad Saleh, 73, who is at risk of losing her home. “We were all born here, my siblings and I.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said he would continue to “mobilise the widest international condemnation” of Israel’s effort to displace Palestinians.
Hamas called for escalating “resistance in all its forms” against Israel.
Israeli police also said they had arrested two people suspected of firebombing the empty home of a Jewish family in the neighbourhood over the weekend.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, speaking to reporters before flying to Bahrain, said that “setting Jewish homes on fire” was unacceptable. But he added “we don’t need provocatuers who come to ignite the area for political aims.”
Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital and annexed the eastern sector in 1967 in a move not generally recognised internationally.