Dozens of Jewish Israelis moved into an apartment complex in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan overnight Sunday and Monday morning, repeating a nighttime operation that drew international condemnation in September.
Ateret Cohanim, an organization that settles Jews in Arab areas of East Jerusalem, said Monday that it had helped to facilitate the purchase of two buildings. Ateret Cohanim Executive Director Daniel Luria said the buildings had nine apartments in all, and would double the Jewish presence in that section of the Silwan neighborhood.
The apartments are near Beit Yehonatan, another building inhabited by Jewish residents.
Ir Amim, a dovish Israeli rights group, warned that the move would raise tensions.
“The entry of more settlers into Silwan is another step toward closing the window for a diplomatic solution,” Ir Amim policy development director Oshrat Maimon said in a statement.
Maimon also accused the Israeli government of backing the Jewish groups that move into Arab neighborhoods.
Luria said that Silwan attracted non-Israeli Jewish buyers because, as an area that was enclosed within the walls of ancient Jerusalem, it was deeply rooted in Jewish history.
“People want a piece of the rock,” he told The Times of Israel. “You can touch the Temple Mount. The cradle of Jewish life is central there.”
Luria claimed that Ateret Cohanim assisted and advised in the property purchases because they were made under the shadow of death threats against Arabs who sell property in Jerusalem to Jews.
“It is absurd to think that in this day and age that is the way things are,” he said.
The Wadi Hilweh information center said Palestinian families had moved out of the homes four months ago, after it was purchased by the Israeli group, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported.
There was no immediate Palestinian response.
The incident was similar to one three weeks ago in which a group of Jews moved into several buildings in the same neighborhood purchased by an American-based company, Kendall Finances, one of several groups seeking to expand the Jewish presence in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
In that case, the move was organized by Elad, an NGO that oversees the Ir David archaeological park, also in Silwan, and is dedicated to facilitating Jewish settlement in Arab East Jerusalem.
Elad on Monday denied any involvement in the newest move.
The September 30 move, which came ahead of a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama, drew condemnation from Palestinians and American officials, among others, who described it as a settler takeover.
Israel effectively annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, and Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat both defended the right of Israelis to buy apartments anywhere in the capital.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.