Israeli Government Calls in Loans Made to Jewish Settlers in Jerusalem

In its latest move against groups trying to expand the Jewish presence in the Old City of Jerusalem, the government has demanded that a settlers group repay more than $2 million in loans it received from the Housing Ministry under the previous Likud government.

The Finance Ministry on Tuesday asked the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, responsible for many of the real estate purchases in the Moslem Quarter of the Old City, to pay back the interest-free loans within 10 days.

It said the settlers received the loans four years ago but had failed to comply with a requirement that they present a list of 100 members who were homeless and therefore entitled to such favorable terms.

At the same time, state prosecutors asked the Jerusalem Magistrates Court for an order to evict Ateret Cohanim settlers from three buildings they occupied in the Moslem Quarter.

The state argued that the buildings were originally seized by the state for security purposes, and their lease to the settlers by the previous government was null and void.

The moves were the latest in a series of measures taken by the government to curtail settlers in the Old City.

Earlier this week, the Housing Ministry announced it would no longer fund guards for settlers, at a cost estimated at thousands of shekels.

Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the government should continue to bear responsibility for the protection of Old City settlers, “but not from our budget.”

Last week, the government decided to halt funding for Jewish purchase of Arab property in East Jerusalem.

It was also announced that apartments already bought would not be renovated and that prospective tenants would not be allowed to move in.

Ateret Cohanim spokesmen met this week with Justice Minister David Libai to complain of curbs on their actions, which, they said, were based on incomplete information.

Libai said he was not yet familiar with details of the matter. He urged the settlers to present their case to a joint committee of the Finance and Justice ministries set up to study Jewish settlement in the Moslem Quarter.

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