Mideast peace efforts unravel

Clashes
erupted between Israeli police and Arab protesters on Tuesday in a disputed
section of Jerusalem; further heightening tensions that have already threatened
to stifle the budding U.S. peace-making efforts.

During
the violence that started early in the morning, hundreds of Arab youths threw
stones at Israeli police forces and set tires and garbage bins on fire at
several locations in East Jerusalem, the predominantly Arab section of the holy
city the Palestinian claim to be the capital of their future state, and the
latter responded with stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse
the crowds.

  At
least 50 protesters were injured and over 30 arrested, and several Israeli
police officers were also wounded, according to rough counts by local media.

The
fighting came in the wake of weeks of simmering tensions since Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month included two holy sites in the West Bank
into an Israeli heritage list., triggering Palestinian accusations that the
Jewish state was attempting to tighten its grip on Palestinian territories and
establish facts on the ground to stop the Palestinians from having a viable
state.

Adding
oil to the flame, the Israeli Interior Ministry’s  last week green lighted a project to build
1,600 new housing units at a Jewish neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, one day
after U.S. special envoy George Mitchell officially announced that Israel and
the Palestinians had agreed to begin indirect talks under U.S. mediation. The
dramatic move infuriated the already doubtful Palestinian leadership, who has
vowed not to enter the U.S. – brokered parley until Israel cancels the project.

The
East Jerusalem plan has also plunged the Israeli-U.S. ties into a visible
crisis, with the Israeli ambassador in Washington talking of a 35-year low.
Recent days have seen U.S. officials line up to condemn the expansion project,
which they called an insult to the United States as it was announced while U.S.
Vice President Joe Biden was in the region for peace-making efforts.

Against
such a backdrop, Mitchell has postponed his visit to the region, which was
originally scheduled for Tuesday. Local daily The Jerusalem Post quoted the
U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv as saying that the change was due to “logistical
reasons” and that he would arrive sometime after a meeting of the Middle
East Quartet of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and
Russia in Moscow on Thursday. Yet speculation is circulating that the emissary
put off his trip because Washington was waiting for a formal Israeli response
over the East Jerusalem housing

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