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Palestinians object to building Jewish homes in Arab district

JERUSALEM, Dec. 10 (JTA) — Palestinian officials warned this week that a plan to construct some 130 housing units for Jews in the heart of an Arab neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem could spark another wave of violence similar to the riots that erupted in September. The plan, which calls for the building of homes in the Ras Al-Amud neighborhood, was approved Tuesday by the Jerusalem Building and Planning Committee. The plan was linked to a building project for Arabs in the same community. Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert and Deputy Housing Minister Meir Porush have backed the plan, which now will be sent on for further government consideration. Palestinian opponents of the plan warned that building Jewish homes in the heart of the Arab neighborhood would lead to a “Hebronization” of Jerusalem. Israeli and the Palestinian negotiators have held two months of intensive talks in an effort to agree on the logistics of a transfer of power in the tense West Bank town of Hebron, where some 500 Jewish settlers live among 130,000 Palestinians. Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat held weekend consultations in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak regarding the stalled talks, as American officials were reportedly pressing to arrange a summit between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to reports of the American plan, Israel would redeploy its troops from the nearby Arab town of Halhoul in exchange for broader security powers for Israel in Hebron. Netanyahu suggested the summit with Arafat last week, saying that the two leaders could resolve the few remaining issues. Arafat sent mixed signals to the invitation, first saying that he was ready for the meeting, but later reversing his position. Meanwhile, each side blames the other for holding up the agreement for implementing the Israeli redeployment in Hebron. At last Friday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu reiterated his view that the accord was nearly 98 percent complete. He added that it was time to look toward the next step in the peace process, the permanent-status talks. Netanyahu told his ministers that he had a clear view of a permanent agreement with the Palestinians that would ensure Israel’s vital interests. He promised to present his views to the Cabinet for a full discussion in the coming weeks. In Hebron, meanwhile, the Israel Defense Force removed concrete barriers from a main street there, but was not allowing any travel on it. Shuhada, or Martyrs, Street was closed to Palestinian traffic after the February 1994 Hebron massacre, when Jewish settler Dr. Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Muslim worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The Palestinians have demanded the street’s reopening as part of the redeployment agreement.