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Israel shuts Palestinian map office citing sovereignty breach

Palestinian geographer Khalil Tafakji (C), who runs a Palestinian map office, is detained by Israeli security officers as they carry out an Israeli police order to close the office, in the Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israel ordered the closure of an office in Arab East Jerusalem on Tuesday as it was suspected of being funded by the Palestinian Authority and involved with monitoring the sale of Palestinian property to Jews, police said.

Israel forbids any official activity by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem, saying it breaches Israel’s sovereignty over the city, which it has declared its indivisible capital, a move not recognized internationally.

Israel’s internal security minister said the office, which drafts maps, was “monitoring and documenting” Palestinian-owned land in East Jerusalem, scrutinizing changes Israel has made to the terrain and passing on the names of landowners planning to sell.

“Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan ordered the closure of the Palestinian map office which has resumed operations in Beit Hanina in Jerusalem,” a police statement said.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat called the closure a “provocative act” and part of an effort by Israel “to erase any Palestinian presence in the city”.

However, in a statement Erdan said: “The Palestinian map office is part of the PA’s plan to harm our sovereignty in Jerusalem and to threaten Arabs selling real estate to Jews in the city. I will continue to act firmly to prevent any Palestinian government foothold in Jerusalem.”

The office, in Beit Hanina, a Palestinian neighborhood in the northern part of Jerusalem, is run by geographer Khalil Tafakji. Police said that a 65-year-old Jerusalem resident was arrested and many documents and computers were seized.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, together with the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Israel occupied East Jerusalem after capturing it in a 1967 war, a move not recognized internationally.

Since annexing East Jerusalem in 1980, Israel has greatly expanded its presence in that part of the city, building settlements and major pieces of infrastructure. Private Jewish groups have also sought to buy up Palestinian homes in eastern neighborhoods to expand the Jewish presence in the east.

(Reporting by Ammar Awad, Writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Pritha Sarkar)