New Arab houses circling city worry Jews living in Jerusalem

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JERUSALEM — Arab housing construction is on the upswing in a dozen villages surrounding Jerusalem, and this could threaten its status, the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza alleged on Sunday.

The council said it had surveyed the villages by air and found that Palestinians have built 19,000 housing units in the Jerusalem area since the Oslo Accords were signed four years ago.

The survey compared recent aerial photographs with those taken in 1993.

Council director-general Aharon Domb charged that the Palestinians are bent on "determining facts on the ground" in advance of final status negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policy adviser David Bar-Illan said he was not surprised by the findings, and called the construction a blatant unilateral action.

He said that "if the numbers are anywhere near the truth, this is a very serious problem which must be taken into account in our negotiations with the Palestinian Authority."

Council spokeswoman Yehudit Tayar said the units counted are still under construction and that the figures excluded construction that has already been completed.

Much of the building comprises extensions to homes. She said that some single-story homes have been turned into near-highrises.

The villages studied were Kalandia, Bir Naballa, Kafr Akab, A-Ram, Geva (Java), Hizme, Anata, Azim, Azariya, Abu Dis, Arura and Abadiya.

"The intensive construction is definitely being orchestrated by the [Palestinian Authority]," charged Tayar. She added that it is clear the Palestinians are intent on encircling Jerusalem with as many Arab houses as possible to keep a foothold in the capital.

"In a period where there is a continuous directive to freeze Jewish building" in the territories, she said, "the Arab statement being made by their encirclement of Jerusalem is ignored."

Civil Administration spokesman Lt. Peter Lerner responded that the majority of villages in question are in Area B, which is under Israeli security control and Palestinian Authority civilian control, meaning that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for planning in these zones.

"If there are units that were built without permits, it is the Palestinian Authority's responsibility to demolish them," he said.

Tayar said the council's main concern is not whether the building is legal or not, but that it is taking place. "They are making a strong fortified circle around Jerusalem which is a very worrying factor," she asserted.