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Palestinian officials slammed Israel's demolition of an east Jerusalem hotel Sunday to make way for settler housing,

Palestinian president insists Israel has no right to build in any part of occupied east Jerusalem.



By Hossam Ezzedine - RAMALLAH

accusing the Jewish state of destroying any chance of peace.

The Palestinians reacted furiously to the demolition of part of the Hotel Shepherd, which sits on a piece of land in occupied east Jerusalem where developers plan to build a complex of 20 luxury apartments for Jewish settlers.

"By doing this, Israel has destroyed all the US efforts and ended any possibility of a return to negotiations," a spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeina, said in a statement.

"Israel has no right to build in any part of east Jerusalem, or any part of the Palestinian land occupied in 1967," Abu Rudeina said, calling on the United States to "stop Israeli tampering."

US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since the end of September, when an Israeli freeze on the construction of Jewish settlements expired.

Abbas has insisted he will not hold peace talks while Israel continues to build on land which the Palestinians want for their future state.

Israel said on Saturday that its chief peace negotiator, Yitzhak Molcho, would travel to Washington next week to renew contacts with the Palestinians.

But the Palestinians have said they will not hold any talks with Israel without a new settlement freeze.

On Sunday morning, three bulldozers worked to bring down part of the dilapidated hotel, which was once home to Jerusalem's Muslim leader, Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who became infamous for his ties to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

The Jeddah-based Organisation of the Islamic Conference blasted the demolition as a "flagrant violation of international law."

Ghassan Khatib, head of the Palestinian Authority's Government Media Centre, accused Israel of defying the international community, which has criticised the Jewish state for building in the contested east sector of the city.

"The demolition of the Hotel Shepherd in the city of Jerusalem is intended to establish settlement outposts and is a continuation of the policy of settlement and Judaisation of the city in violation of international law and human rights," Khatib said.

Final approval for construction of the east Jerusalem apartments came in March, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks in Washington. The announcement drew international criticism, but Netanyahu defended the project.

The development is financed by US millionaire Irving Moskowitz, who has reportedly provided the money for dozens of Jewish settlement projects in east Jerusalem.

Though east Jerusalem is largely Palestinian, an increasing number of hardline Israeli settlers have moved into the area's neighbourhoods, sparking fights with Arab residents.

An estimated 2,000 Jewish settlers live in Palestinian neighbourhoods of the Holy City, although the exact number of properties they own is unclear.

The Palestinians regard east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state and fiercely oppose any attempts to extend Israeli control over it.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move the rest of the world has never recognised. The Jewish state considers the whole of Jerusalem its "eternal and indivisible" capital.

Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz of the religious-nationalist Habait Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party defended the demolition and Jewish building in east Jerusalem.

"Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, all parts of Jerusalem, and that place was purchased legally and building there residences for people can only improve the quality of life in Jerusalem," he told reporters.

But, in a sign of the divisive nature of Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem, Labour Minister Avishay Braverman said he was "very troubled" by news the project was moving forward, warning against "developments that can later destabilise the whole area."

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