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The US secretary of state has reportedly warned Israeli leaders that evicting Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem could lead to “conflict and war” amid a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
Antony Blinken, who visited Jerusalem earlier this week, told American media actions that could “spark another round of violence” had to be avoided.
His comments come after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the Gaza Strip’s militant rulers, which left more than 250 people dead.
Most of the victims were killed in Gaza, where 66 children died in the explosion of violence earlier this month. Twelve people - including two children - died in Israel.
The war was triggered by weeks of clashes in Jerusalem between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The protests were directed at Israel‘s policing of the area during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.
While the forced evictions were put on hold just before the Gaza fighting erupted, the legal process is set to resume in the coming weeks.
Mr Blinken told Axios he offered a warning over the evictions on his recent visit to the region.
“We raised the concerns that we have on all sides with actions that in the first instance could spark tension, conflict and war and also ultimately undermine even further the difficult prospects for two states,” the US secretary of state told the news outlet.
He told Axios he mentioned the “evictions of Palestinians from their homes where they lived for decades and generations, the demolitions of housing as well” when meeting with Israeli officials, as well as “everything that took place on and around the Temple Mount”.
Meanwhile, he told the site he spoke about “incitement to violence or letting violence go forward with impunity” to Palestinian leaders.
Mr Blinken visited the Middle East earlier this week with the aim of solidifying the ceasefire - which began on Friday after the worst fighting between Palestinian militants and Israel in years - and raising money for reconstruction.
At a press conference during the visit, he warned against actions by Israel or the Palestinians that risk inciting tensions or ultimately undermine the two-state solution to which he said Washington was still committed - including the possible Israeli evictions of Palestinians from East Jerusalem.
Israel seized the Old City, and the rest of East Jerusalem and the adjacent West Bank, in a 1967 war. It sees all Jerusalem as its capital, including Sheikh Jarrah, which contains a site revered by religious Jews as the tomb of an ancient high priest.
Palestinians live in most of Sheikh Jarrah‘s homes, but Israeli settlers have moved in to some of its properties, saying they were owned by Jews before the 1948 Israeli-Arab war that followed the end of the British Mandate for Palestine.
In October last year, an Israeli court ruled in favour of settlers who say the Palestinian families are living on land that used to belong to Jews.
Palestinians are appealing the decision at Israel’s Supreme Court.
Additional reporting by agencies