Israel demolishes Palestinian shops in Jerusalem's Shufat refugee camp
Israeli forces sealed off the Palestinian Shufat refugee camp in East Jerusalem on Wednesday before destroying 20 shops in the largest single Israeli demolition spree in the city in recent years.
Israeli forces entered the camp and sealed off all entrances and exits as bulldozers demolished 20 commercial properties, witnesses told Wafa news agency.
The shop owners were informed of the demolition orders by the Jerusalem municipality on Tuesday.
The stores included bakeries, clothes shops, shoe shops, and restaurants. Israel claimed that the properties were built without construction permits.
Not a single Israeli building permit has been issued in the camp since 1967, forcing residents to build illegally.
Dozens of Palestinians protested the Israeli demolitions, with border police firing tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets.
The PLO said the demolitions were part of former Israeli mayor Nir Barkat's plan to end the status of Shufat as a refugee camp and terminate the presence of the UN's refugee agency in Jerusalem.
Last month, the former mayor said he wanted to expel UNRWA from Jerusalem and "end the lie of the 'Palestinian refugee problem'".
Shufat is the only Palestinian refugee camp in Jerusalem and is home to 21,000 residents.
Israel has built an eight-meter-high concrete wall around the camp to separate it from the rest of the city.
PLO official Ahmad Abu Holy said Israel carried out the demolitions "under the illegal pretext of building without a permit but intended to change the character of the camp as part of former West Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat's plan to end the status of the camp as a refugee camp".
Since Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank in 1967, over 48,000 Palestinian homes and agricultural structures have been demolished in the occupied territories, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions says.
In East Jerusalem, demolitions take place in strategic areas to create a geographic reality where Israeli sovereignty cannot be challenged and division of the city as part of the two state solution becomes impossible.
Israeli building permits are notoriously difficult to obtain for Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Between 2010 and 2014, Israel's Civil Administration issued just 1.5 percent of permit requests, the UN says.
UNRWA was established in the wake of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. An estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes at the time, an event Palestinians call the Nakba, or "Catastrophe".