News / Middle East

    Israeli Minister Slams Colleagues Over Jerusalem Comments

    Israel's defense minister is criticizing fellow government officials for inflaming tensions over Jerusalem.

    Ehud Barak said Thursday that recent comments by senior Israeli officials were harming the country's reputation, making it look like Israel refuses to make peace.

    He also said the verbal attacks were damaging the Jewish state's relationship with the United States, as well as with the rest of the world.

    Barak called on Israeli and Palestinian officials to avoid "provocative" comments, saying the peace process is at a "delicate" stage.

    The U.S. has been mediating indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians in an effort to kick-start the peace process. But earlier Thursday, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said Israel would never agree to U.S. demands to freeze construction in East Jerusalem.

    The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

    Barak's warning comes one day after Israel celebrated the 43rd anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem – which has not been recognized by the international community. The observances were based on the Hebrew calendar.

    Also Wednesday, Israel's internal security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovich, said the planned demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem would go ahead as planned.

    Meanwhile, a New York-based human rights group is calling on Israel to investigate actions by its military during last year's offensive in Gaza.

    Human Rights Watch issued a 116-page report Thursday, accusing Israeli forces of destroying Palestinian homes, factories and farms in Gaza "without any lawful military purpose."

    Human Rights Watch criticized Hamas and other Palestinian groups for firing rockets from populated areas, but said it documented 12 cases in which Palestinian property was destroyed when there was no fighting in the area.

    The report also criticized Israel and Egypt for the economic blockade of Gaza, calling it collective punishment.

    Some information for this report was provided by AP.

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