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Israel orders Palestinians to close 4 Jerusalem offices

JERUSALEM, March 5 (JTA) — Israel has added more fuel for Palestinian anger with the announcement that four Palestinian offices in eastern Jerusalem must be closed because of their alleged connections to the Palestinian Authority. The order, given Tuesday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, comes amid heightened Palestinian criticism over an Israeli decision to build a new Jewish neighborhood at Har Homa in southeastern Jerusalem. Issuing the closure order, Netanyahu echoed previous Israeli leaders by maintaining that the Palestinian Authority has no right to operate in Jerusalem. He defended the Har Homa decision by stating that Israel has the full right to build anywhere within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. The closure order came at the recommendation of an anti-terror team, which said the institutions were linked to the Palestinian Authority. One of the places was a mapping office, which Israel had ordered closed last August. The Palestinian Authority agreed at the time to close the office and move it to Abu Dis, an Arab neighborhood outside of Jerusalem. But the office reopened a month later in Orient House, the Palestinian Authority’s de facto headquarters in eastern Jerusalem. Along with issuing the closure order, Netanyahu instructed Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani to immediately keep Palestinian security forces from operating in the eastern half of the city. The Palestinian preventive security forces, operating under the command of Jibril Rajoub, have been actively policing and gathering intelligence among eastern Jerusalem’s Arab population. Visiting German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel criticized the timing of the closure order, saying that it exacerbated existing tensions. “Given the present difficult situation, I think we should avoid decisions which foster mistrust,” he said. The United States also criticized the Israeli move against the Palestinian offices. “This is a time when it is very important that the parties take steps that will build confidence between them,” said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns. “It is therefore very difficult to understand why the Israeli government made such a decision at this time when there is a very difficult environment in the relationship with the Palestinians.” Meanwhile, the Israeli Foreign Ministry was checking information that visiting French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette had visited Orient House with a Palestinian official and had made political statements there. Israel has long sought to prevent senior foreign diplomats from holding official talks at Orient House.