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      Arabs Condemn Demolition Order for Mosques

      Palestinian National Authority claims Israeli court order to demolish two illegal mosques is illegal, but chances of it happening are slim.
      By Elad Benari
      First Publish: 8/25/2010, 5:12 AM / Last Update: 8/25/2010, 5:06 AM

      Regavim

      The Palestinian National Authority condemned on Monday a decision by Israel to demolish two mosques in Judea and Samaria, which have been illegally built.

      One of the mosques is located in an Arab village north of Beit El, and the second one is located near Yitzhar.

      The appeal to demolish the mosques was presented to Israel’s Supreme Court by the Regavim advocacy group. According to Attorney Amir Fisher who represents Regavim, the two mosques were built adjacent to housing units in Jewish neighborhoods, making them both illegal as well as a threat to residents’ security.  Regavim's policy is to counter leftist and Arab groups' claims against Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria with evidence of illegal Arab construction.

      Fisher said on Monday that building mosques near Jewish neighborhoods is part of the Palestinian Authority’s plan to take over Israeli lands in Judea and Samaria. According to Fisher, this plan is well-known and has been publicly stated in the media by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayad. Fisher explained that part of this plan is to establish large public buildings throughout Judea and Samaria, and later use them in future territorial arguments between Israel and the PA, in order to determine such arguments in a one-sided manner and present Israel with facts on the ground.

      Creating facts on the ground was the policy of the Jewish settlement in Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza) as well, but it had no restraining effect on the destruction of Gush Katif in the disengagement expulsion, when synagogues, schools, yeshivas and public buildings were abandoned or destroyed.

      He added that in light of the intensive work being carried out these days to complete the construction of the two mosques in question and populate them, there is an urgent need to issue a demolition order prior to completion.

      However, PNA Minister of Religious Affairs Mahmoud al-Habash told Voice of Palestine radio on Monday that the Israeli decision to demolish the two mosques is "provocative and illegal."

      "Israel is carrying out unilateral provocative steps to obstruct the efforts to resume the peace process and reach a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians," said al-Habash.

      Palestinian Authority Spokesman Dr. Gassan Al Khateeb was quoted as saying that the Israeli strategy is to demolish Arab property and thus make the lives of Arabs more difficult.

      "The Palestinian Authority will never sit handcuffed in the face of these Israeli policies. The PA will rebuild whatever the Israelis demolish in our areas including area C," he said.

      So far, however, the Beit El mosque has not been destroyed, despite an order two months ago by the Civil Administration to demolish it. In response to Fisher’s appeal, the Civil Administration said that the destruction of the mosque “is in the hands of the decision makers according to the priorities determined by them periodically.”

      Fisher said that under said “priorities”, the Civil Administration has refrained from destroying 30,000 Arab buildings which have been built without permits. He believes, and a look at the track record bears him out,  that citing priorities as the determining factor of when the mosque will be destroyed, means that there is no intention of ever destroying it. “The Civil Administration's response indicates contempt towards the petitioners and a complete and unreasonable disregard for their claims of the danger hovering over the residents of the community of Beit El, when construction of the mosque is complete and it is populated,” said Fisher.

      Attorney Akiva Sylvetsky, legal advisor to the Shomron Regional Council, noted that when Jewish construction claimed illegal by leftist and Arab groups or built during the 'freeze' is deemed illegal by the court, the priorities issue is almost never raised by the Civil Administration. The fate of the Maale Shomron synagogue ordered to be sealed by the court recently can be a test case in the light of the priorities issue being cited over the mosques.