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Israel Advances East Jerusalem Settlement Plan

By VOANews, Israel Hayom and

A new Israeli settlement plan is further raising tensions between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem. Israel is advancing plans to build 1,060 new housing units for Jews in Israeli annexed disputed East Jerusalem, 400 units in Har Homa and 600 units in Ramat Shlomo. on land Palestinians claim for a future state.

Ramat Shlomo is a neighborhood in northern Jerusalem, situated between Ramot Alon and Shuafat, and Har Homa is a neighborhood in southeast Jerusalem. Both neighborhoods are located across the Green Line (the pre-1967 armistice line). The move comes as tensions increase between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem following this year's 50-day war between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in Gaza. There has been daily violence in Arab neighborhoods, where stone-throwing youths have clashed with Israeli police and vandalized public property.

Tensions soared last week when a Palestinian plowed his car into a crowd at a Jerusalem train station, killing a baby, an Ecuadorian woman and wounding several other people. Police described it as a "terrorist attack."

Jewish settlement activist Yisrael Meidad welcomed the construction plans and praised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for standing firm against domestic and international opposition. "Given the tremendous amount of pressure he is facing from those of the left of center and the knocking of heads between us and Washington over the past year or so, taking these steps is a step in the right direction," said Meidad.

The United States repeatedly has urged Israel to refrain from settlement expansion, describing it as an obstacle to peace. The Palestinian Authority accused Israel of committing "crimes" that are punishable under international law.

The ultranationalist Jewish Home party, led by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, has been issuing veiled threats to sever its political partnership with Netanyahu unless he agrees to its call for 2,000 new building tenders in settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian officials have voiced alarm - echoed in the international community - over settlement building, viewing it as a main obstacle to the creation of the independent state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. "We strongly condemn the latest Israeli announcement to expand its illegal settlements in and around occupied East Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Palestine," Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah rejected the Israeli stance and said its occupation would eventually end. "All the Israeli violations, all these settlements, everything that the occupation is doing in this area - is illegitimate. It is confirmed by the judgment of history that any occupation in the world has an end. God willing, this occupation will end and there will be an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital," said Hamdallah.

Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its "indivisible and eternal" capital, a claim that is not recognized internationally, and says Jews have the right to live anywhere in the city. Some 500,000 Israelis have settled in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, among 2.4 million Palestinians. The World Court says settlements Israel has built there are illegal, a view Israel disputes.

The United States Monday blasted Israel for pledging to build Jewish homes in Jerusalem, saying any such move would be "incompatible" with peace efforts, according to AFP. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was "deeply concerned" by the reports and American embassy officials were having high-level talks with Israeli leaders to seek more information.

"We continue to make our position absolutely clear that we view settlement activity as illegitimate and unequivocally oppose unilateral steps that prejudge the future of Jerusalem," Psaki told reporters. "Israel's leaders have said they would support a pathway to a two-state solution, but moving forward with this type of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace," she added.

Washington repeatedly condemns moves to build Jewish homes in Jerusalem, as well as in Judea and Samaria - despite ample evidence that both would solve a fatally deepening housing crisis in an area that's 90% unpopulated.

But, despite the harsh condemnation, the State Department maintained that it remains Israel's staunchest ally. "Ties between us are unshakable," Psaki reiterated. "There are times when we disagree with actions of the Israeli government, including... the issue of settlements, where we have deep concerns about some of the steps the government is taking," she said. "We expressed those, but it does not mean that we don't have a strong and formidable relationship that continues."

From Hizbullah Terrorist to Israeli Rabbi


It may be hard to believe, but Rabbi Avraham Sinai's journey to the holy city of Tzfat in northern Israel, where he lives today with his family, included a prolonged stint as a Hizbullah terrorist.In his previous life, 52-year-old Rabbi Sinai was a Shia Muslim living in Lebanon. Surprisingly, in the was the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorist group which initially pushed him towards Israel.

The PLO, made up mainly of secular Sunni Muslims, took over wide swathes of territory in Lebanon, and mercilessly persecuted Shia Muslims under their control. "They did things that were worse than what is going on in Syria," Rabbi Sinai said in a recent interview with Israeli Channel 20. He began helping Israeli intelligence, passing information on PLO movements in his area.

When the PLO's influence waned and the Shia terrorist group Hizbullah was founded - with funding and support from Iran - Sinai's Israeli handlers persuaded him to sign up. For years, he worked as a spy within Hizbullah's ranks, climbing its ranks and passing on valuable information on the terror group's activities to Israeli intelligence - foiling several terrorist attacks, he says.

But eventually, his cover was blown, and he was forced to flee to a region of southern Lebanon controlled by the Southern Lebanese Army (SLA) - which was allied with Israel at the time.Not long after, his Israeli handlers informed him his life was still in danger, and relocated him to Israel. There, he converted to Judaism along with his wife under the tutelage of the chief rabbi of Tzfat, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu.

Decades later he says he sees the entire episode as God's work, and gave a thought-provoking perspective on his journey in the Channel 20 interview.

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