Israel plays for time on flashpoint Jerusalem evictions

Israel’s attorney general secured a deferment on Sunday of a court hearing on planned evictions of Palestinians in Jerusalem, a session that had threatened to stoke more violence in the holy city and heighten international concern.

The government could now have some breathing room to try to defuse a tinderbox situation in Jerusalem, where the court case and friction during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan have led to clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police.

The Israeli Supreme Court had been due on Monday to hear appeals against the planned evictions of several Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, an area captured by Israel in a 1967 war.

A lower court had found in favour of Jewish settlers’ claim to the land on which the Palestinians’ homes are located, a decision seen by Palestinians as a bid by Israel to drive them from contested Jerusalem.

But in a last-minute legal move, the appellants asked the court to seek a legal opinion from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, opening the way for Monday’s session to be postponed and the possibility he could argue against the evictions.

A spokesman for Mandelblit said the court agreed to receive a future submission from the attorney general and that a new session would be scheduled within 30 days.

"I’m very optimistic because of the court’s decision," said Nabil al-Kurd, 77, one of the Palestinians facing eviction. "We are sitting here in our country, in our land. We will not give up."

After the iftar meal that breaks the Ramadan daily fast, he and a group of elders sat and watched as young Palestinian protesters sang and chanted slogans at settlers across the road, shouting "Freedom, freedom" and "Palestine is Arab."

The Israelis did likewise, singing and dancing, with police in riot gear and on horseback keeping them apart. Outside the settlers’ house across the street, Yaakov, 42, said the court postponement was "a disgrace."

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired at least four rockets into Israel, the Israeli military said, with one of them being intercepted and others falling short or in open areas. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

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