Friday, November 26th, 2010, 10:53 am Amman Time

Israeli soldiers raze mosque, buildings in West Bank
by Agencies

Israeli troops razed a mosque and more than 10 other structures in two areas of the occupied West Bank on Thursday, Palestinian sources told Agence France-Presse.

Most of the demolition activity took place in the village of Khirbet Yarza in the northern Jordan Valley, where residents said troops had razed a very old mosque and its much-larger extension, which was built last year.

They also said troops had levelled "more than 10 buildings used for sheep".

The army confirmed knocking down what it described as "eight temporary structures" which had been built inside a military firing zone.

"During the morning, the security forces and the civil administration destroyed eight temporary structures and the frame of another structure, which were built without the required permits inside a firing zone endangering the lives of the residents," said a statement from COGAT, the defence ministry unit which acts as a link between the army and the Palestinians.

At the opposite end of the West Bank, Israeli troops destroyed a building which was home to 18 people in the southern town of Yatta, the family and municipal officials told AFP.

Khirbet Yarza is located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control and where all construction and planning issues come under the jurisdiction of the Israeli civil administration.

Figures from the Israeli NGO Bimkom show that around 95 per cent of applications for a building permit are rejected, with the civil administration only granting around 12 permits a year.

UN figures show that in 2009, Israel destroyed 180 Palestinian homes in Area C, including 56 residential buildings.

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert took a rare public jab at his successor on Thursday, saying that Israel should agree to the US demand to halt settlement construction in the West Bank in order to restart Mideast peace talks, the Associated Press reported.

Olmert suggested the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Obama administration are wasting valuable time by focusing on such a “marginal” issue, rather than tackling the essential issues at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

US President Barack Obama has asked for a new three-month moratorium on settlement construction after a 10-month slowdown expired in September, causing peace talks to stall.

Netanyahu has yet to commit to a renewal, saying he is waiting for written US assurances. Palestinians say they won’t return to negotiations without a total freeze.

Olmert, who resigned two years ago to face corruption charges, has largely kept a low profile since leaving office in early 2009 and has refrained from publicly criticising Netanyahu.

Speaking to foreign correspondents, he said he wouldn’t have agreed to a settlement freeze in the first place, saying it was more important to focus on larger issues like final borders, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. But he said he would not turn down a request from Israel’s closest ally and endanger ties.

“If someone says that he agrees to 10 months of freezing and the president of the mightiest nation on earth and friendliest nation to Israel comes to you and says ‘please give me two [more] months, only two months,’ I mean what could happen in two months?” he said. “I would say ‘president, why two? Why not three? Take three!’”

Olmert said both Israel and the US should instead focus on reaching a final peace deal with the Palestinians.

Since leaving office, Olmert has confirmed he made Israel’s most far-reaching offer to the Palestinians, proposing a Palestinian state on close to 94 per cent of the West Bank, and offering them the equivalent of the final 6 per cent of territory in a land “swap”.

Olmert said the Palestinians never responded to his offer, made in the final months of his term in office.

“I think that they made a mistake. I think that the fact that they didn’t respond to my proposal was a historic mistake of the highest order that they will live to regret for a long time, until someone will come from our side with the same ideas,” he said.

The Olmert plan would have also have turned over Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem to Palestinian control. Jerusalem’s Old City, with its holy sites, one of the most intractable issues dividing the sides, was to be governed jointly by Israel, the Palestinians, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States, he said.