Israel should immediately stop evicting Palestinians and demolishing their homes in Arab East Jerusalem where thousands are threatened with displacement, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Friday.
Statistics in a report from the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs say some 1,500 demolition orders are pending for homes built without a permit from Israel's Jerusalem Municipality in the east of the city.
If the demolition orders were implemented, about 9,000 Palestinians would be displaced, it added.
No building permits
Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and considers the city its capital, a claim that does not have international recognition. The Palestinian Authority wants East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The demolitions, and calls by Jerusalem's Israeli mayor, Nir Barkat, to expand Jewish settlements on occupied land, have stoked tensions in the city, and put Israel on a possible collision course with its U.S. and European allies.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visiting Israel in March, said demolitions were "unhelpful", and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has forecast they will provoke the first showdown between President Barack Obama and Israel's new right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The U.N. report said at least 28 percent of Palestinian homes -- and 60,000 residents -- were at risk because they were built without permits, which the Palestinians complain are almost impossible to obtain from the Israeli-run municipality.
Many are located in areas zoned as "green areas" by the Jerusalem municipality. This includes the Silwan area, where the municipality plans to demolish 88 Palestinian residential buildings to make way for an archaeological park.
"Although the Israeli government has indicated that the houses being demolished did not have the necessary building permits, the fact is that Palestinians lack meaningful access to such permits," the Human Rights Commissioner said.
Marked growth in new structures
Only 13 percent of annexed East Jerusalem land area is currently zoned by the Israeli authorities for Palestinian construction, the statement added, and most of that is already overcrowded with construction.
"Meanwhile, the growth in the number of new structures in Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank increased by 69 percent in 2008, compared to 2007," it noted, citing figures from the Israeli rights group, Peace Now.
In a response to the U.N. report, Jerusalem mayor Barkat denied the allegations and disputed the facts, but agreed there was a "planning crisis" in the city.
"This report is about the past, while Mayor Barkat is committed to the future and providing a better quality of life for all residents of Jerusalem," a statement from his office said.
The crisis "throughout all of Jerusalem ... affects Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike", the mayor said, and it would soon be tackled comprehensively in the first "master plan for the city" to be drawn up in 50 years.