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More expansion in East Jerusalem

Israel is planning to expand a landmark hotel in occupied east Jerusalem, which is built on land confiscated from the Jordanian government

AFP, Friday 17 Dec 2010
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Israel is planning to expand a landmark hotel in occupied east Jerusalem, which is built on land confiscated from the Jordanian government, an Israeli newspaper said on Wednesday.

The news brought a rebuke from Jordan, which spoke out against any unilateral changes in the status of Jerusalem and its landmarks.

The plans relate to the Seven Arches Hotel, which is located at the top of the Mount of Olives and has panoramic views over Jerusalem's Old City, Haaretz said.

The hotel, which formerly belonged to Jordan, is currently owned by the Custodian of Absentee Property, an arm of the Israeli government.

The project would see the hotel expanding from 12,000 square metres (129,000 square feet), to more than 20,000 square metres and would add an additional 75 rooms, a conference hall and a swimming pool, the paper said.

It was not immediately possible to independently confirm details of the plan, although its existence was confirmed by a councillor at the Jerusalem municipality and by settlement watchdog Peace Now.

"There is a new plan for expanding the hotel; it was submitted to the municipality in July," said Peace Now's Hagit Ofran, while admitting she had not yet seen the full document.

Yosef Pepe Alalu, a city councillor with the left-wing Meretz party, said he had seen selected excerpts from it.

"It is an expansion plan but it has not been finalised, so it has not been presented to the (municipal planning) committee," he told AFP.

"The hotel belongs to the government so this is clearly a political move," he said. "They are trying to create facts on the ground."

But hotel general manager Awni Inshewat denied there were any plans to expand the hotel, telling AFP there had been some confusion over an application for a building permit for a huge Christian prayer tent located at the site.

"The tent has been there for about five years, but the municipality said it needs a building permit, so we applied for that," he said, describing it as a 250-square-metre structure set up by Christian group.

The land and the hotel were taken over by the Israeli government's Custodian of Absentee Property after the 1967 Middle East war, when the Jewish state seized lands in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The plans emerged just days after the municipality approved the construction of 24 settler homes in the middle of As-Suwwana, which lies very close to the Mount of Olives, Peace Now said.

Building work for the new homes began on Wednesday, an AFP correspondent said, in a move likely to spark further tensions in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their promised state.

Around 2,000 hardline settlers live in the middle of Palestinian neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, although the exact number of properties owned by them is unclear.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem after the 1967 war in a move never recognised by the rest of the world. The Jewish state considers the whole of Jerusalem its "eternal and indivisible" capital.

Reacting to the news, a Jordanian official said his country "renews its rejection of any unilateral Israeli policies and plans to change landmarks in Palestinian territories, particularly Jerusalem," state-run Petra news agency said.

"Jordan demands Israel stops any measure that would affect the existing status in Jerusalem. The government is closely following up on the issue" and has asked Israel for clarification.

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