Israel’s Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan (Likud) defended the demolition of illegal Arab apartment buildings on the southeastern fringe of Jerusalem Monday morning, saying the structures were built too close to the security barrier, and could be used as a haven for terrorists.

"The demolition of the illegal and mostly uninhabited buildings which takes place today at ‎Wadi al-Hummus in the village of Sur Baher, Jerusalem, was approved by the Israeli High Court of Justice,” said Erdan in a statement Monday morning, “which ruled that the illegal construction constitutes a severe security threat and can provide cover to suicide bombers and other terrorists hiding among civilian population and endanger the lives of civilians and security forces alike.”

“The court also ruled unequivocally that those who built houses in the area of the security fence, knew that building in that area was prohibited, and took the law into their own hands."

Israeli forces seal off illegal Arab apartment buildings in Sur Baher, Jerusalem
Israeli forces seal off illegal Arab apartment buildings in Sur Baher, JerusalemREUTERS

Both the United Nations and the European Union had called on Israel to cancel the demolition orders issued for 10 illegal apartment buildings in Sur Baher, an Arab enclave in southeastern Jerusalem.

“The continuation of this policy undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospect for a lasting peace,” the European Union said recently.

“We are following very closely developments in the Sur Baher area of the Jerusalem governorate,” the United Nations Officer for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement.

“Seventeen Palestinians… face the risk of displacement, and over 350 others risk massive property loss, due to the Israeli authorities’ intention to demolish 10 buildings, including around 70 apartments, due to their proximity to the West Bank barrier.”

“We join others in the international community in calling on Israel to halt plans to demolish these and other structures.”

Ten apartment buildings with 70 apartments are slated for demolition, after the Supreme Court last month rejected the final appeal.

“The petitioners took the law into their own hands when they began and continued building structures without receiving a special permit from the military commander,” the court said in its ruling green-lighting the demolitions.

Most of the apartment units have yet to be completed, with only three of the 70 planned apartments currently inhabited.

Fatah, a faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization which rules the Palestinian Authority, condemned the demolitions Monday as “war crimes” and “ethnic cleansing”, and blamed the US for its ‘total support’ of “Israeli settlement projects” and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.

“This crime comes under total US support for the Israeli settlement projects, which is a natural result of the illegal US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Fatah said.

The unauthorized apartments were built in a part of Sur Baher known as Wadi al-Hummus - a strip of land on the Jerusalem side of the security barrier, but technically outside of the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.

In 2011, the Israeli Civil Administration issued a military order barring construction in the area, citing security concerns.

Despite the order, over 100 buildings were constructed in the area - all of which could face demolition in the future.