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U.S. and Israel Both Call Occupation of Homes in East Jerusalem a Mistake

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Israel and the United States were in agreement this week that the occupation of houses in the Arab village of Silwan by Jewish settlers was the wrong move at the wrong time.

Both countries seemed anxious not to let the provocative act further strain relations between them or upset the Mideast peace process.

Secretary of State James Baker readily agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir on Thursday that the settlers made a “mistake” by occupying five Arab houses in the East Jerusalem suburb the previous day.

“This is something I would agree with and I wouldn’t want to take it any further than that,” said Baker, who is preparing for his eighth peacemaking mission to the Middle East next week.

Of the 50-odd settlers who clandestinely occupied the buildings early Wednesday morning, only a handful remained on Thursday.

The others, after a daylong standoff, obeyed police orders to vacate the premises pending a decision on their claim by State Attorney General Yosef Harish.

Harish’s office said the ruling would depend as much on security considerations as on legal briefs. Silwan, which is inside municipal Jerusalem, was under curfew all week to forestall disturbances in connection with the first anniversary of the Temple Mount riots on Oct. 8, 1990.

Local residents have warned that violence was inevitable if the Jews continued to occupy Arab homes in the village.

‘A HISTORICAL PATTERN OF DISRUPTION’

A Jerusalem magistrate meanwhile canceled a temporary injunction barring the settlers from taking over one of the other four houses. The magistrate acted after the settlers produced documents indicating that the Arab family that lived in the house did not own it.

The group that took over the houses also claims to own 40 other buildings in Silwan. Most of them were not bought by settlers but by a government housing company, which sublet them.

Ha’aretz reported Thursday that one of the buildings was rented for about $10 a month.

The settlers also staked their claim to the buildings on the contention that they were originally owned by Jews more than 60 years ago, prior to the 1929 Arab uprising in Palestine.

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler meanwhile warned: “As we move closer to a possible peace conference and direct negotiations, extremists throughout the region may take actions in an effort to derail the process.

“Recent incidents across the region are unfortunately part of a familiar historical pattern of disruption in the face of genuine progress.”

Tutwiler claimed, however, that the parties to the conflict are “closer than ever before to the just, lasting and comprehensive peace which we and our friends in the region have sought for so long and which the region deserves.”

(JTA correspondent Gil Sedan in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)

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