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Israeli AG: Jerusalem Seizure Illegal (AP) By JOSEF FEDERMAN JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 02/01/05 6:42 PM)Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55107-2005Feb1.html AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
JERUSALEM - Israel´s attorney general ruled Tuesday that a secret government decision to seize Jerusalem land of Palestinians living in the West Bank violates Israeli and international law.

The decision blocked what attorneys for the landowners said was an attempt by Israel to confiscate thousands of acres of Jerusalem land and to cement Israeli control over the eastern sector of the city, whose fate is one of the most difficult issues in any future peace talks.

The Palestinians hope to make east Jerusalem the capital of an independent state, while Israel claims the entire city as its capital.

Hundreds of acres of Jerusalem land have been seized in recent months, the attorneys said.

Attorney General Meni Mazuz issued his ruling after ordering an urgent review, saying he was never consulted about the policy, which was secretly approved by Cabinet ministers last summer. The United States also had asked Israel to reverse the decision after it was brought to light last month.

The Cabinet ministers decided last summer to enforce a long- dormant "absentee property" law that allowed Israel to seize the property of Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes during the 1948-49 Mideast war.

Since capturing east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast War, Israel had never applied the law to the disputed area of the city.

Mazuz ruled that reviving the old law is illegal, Justice Ministry spokesman Jacob Galanti said Tuesday. "Mazuz gave his opinion to ministers that this decision is not legally defensible, that it cannot stand up to either Israeli or international law," he said.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon´s office declined to comment.

Hundreds of acres of land have been taken in recent months from Palestinians who were cut off from their Jerusalem property by the separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank, according to attorneys representing Palestinian land owners. Hundreds more property owners were believed to be at risk.

"This is a very important decision. It is basically fulfilling justice for Palestinians," said Mohammed Dahla, an attorney who said he represents many Palestinians in the Beit Jalla suburb south of Jerusalem. "It was unjust, unconstitutional and illegal under international law."

Daniel Seidemann, another lawyer for landowners, said the government policy had caused financial hardship to olive farmers separated from their properties.

Seidemann praised Mazuz´s decision as a victory for the rule of law in Israel. He said he would make sure the land titles are returned to their owners. "The actions of the absentee property custodian are always secret. The landowners were never given notice. There was no due process," he said.

In the 1967 Mideast war, Israel captured eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan. Israel subsequently expanded Jerusalem´s municipal boundaries and annexed the enlarged eastern Jerusalem to its capital, a move not recognized internationally. (Copyright 2005 Associated Press. 02/01/05)

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