JERUSALEM: Israeli police demolished the home of a Palestinian family and arrested at least 18 people as they carried out a controversial eviction order in the sensitive east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah early Wednesday, reports AFP.
The looming eviction of other families from Sheikh Jarrah in May last year fuelled an 11-day war between Israel and armed Palestinian factions in Gaza.
Jerusalem authorities have said the land will be used to build a school for children with special needs, but the eviction is likely to raise tension in a neighbourhood that has become a symbol of Palestinian opposition to Israeli occupation.
Jerusalem deputy mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum has said the dispute surrounding the Salhiya home is "totally different" from the events in May, when Palestinians risked being forced to hand over plots of land to Jewish settlers.
Israeli police said they had "completed the execution of an eviction order of illegal buildings built on grounds designated for a school for children with special needs".
"Members of the family living in the illegal buildings were given countless opportunities to hand over the land with consent," a police statement said.
A bulldozer raked through rubble hours after the home was destroyed.
When police arrived to carry out the order on Monday, Salhiya family members went up to the building's roof with gas canisters, threatening to set the contents and themselves alight if they were forced out of their home.
Police had eventually backed off, but returned early Wednesday amid heavy rainfall in Jerusalem.
Salhiya family lawyer Walid Abu-Tayeh told AFP police had arrested 20 people during the operation, six of them Israeli citizens, with the latter being released, adding that "the Arab detainees were assaulted."
He also confirmed reports that the Palestinian father Mahmud Salhiya is married to an Israeli Jew, named Meital.
In an audio recording distributed to local Arab-language media, Meital, who speaks Arabic, said the family was woken early Wednesday by the sound of loud booms and police had cut the electricity.
"They took me out of the house with my daughter and children who were crying and arrested my husband and all the young men," she said.
Deputy mayor Hassan-Nahoum said Tuesday the plot that the Salhiya family claim as theirs belonged to private Palestinian owners who then sold it to the city, which allocated it for classrooms for special needs Palestinian children.
A delegation of European diplomats visited the site during the standoff. "In occupied territory, evictions are a violation of international humanitarian law," the head of the European Union's mission to the Palestinian territories, Sven Kuehn von Burgsdorff, told AFP.
Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir called the eviction "cruel" and stressed that the Salhiya family had previously been forced from their west Jerusalem home during Israel's creation in 1948.
Wednesday's eviction made them "two-time refugees", he said.
Hundreds of Palestinians face eviction from homes in Sheikh Jarrah and other east Jerusalem neighbourhoods. Circumstances surrounding the eviction threats vary.
In some cases, Jewish Israelis have lodged legal claims to plots they say were illegally taken during the war that accompanied Israel's creation in 1948.
Israeli law allows Jewish Israelis to file such claims, but no equivalent law exists for Palestinians who lost land during the conflict.
Palestinians facing eviction say their homes were legally purchased from Jordanian authorities who controlled east Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community.
More than 200,000 Jewish settlers have since moved into the city's eastern sector, fuelling tensions with Palestinians, who claim it as the capital of their future state.