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Israeli police demolish Palestinian family's home after lengthy standoff

The family’s lawyer said the demolition was illegal.
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JERUSALEM — Israeli police demolished a Palestinian family's home in east Jerusalem on Wednesday after a high-profile standoff in which family members took to the roof in protest.

An "eviction order of illegal buildings" was carried out in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, Israel Police said in a statement, adding that the land will be used to build a school for children with special needs.

The family's lawyer said the demolition was illegal.

Mahmoud Salhiyeh, 50, who lived in the house with his wife and children, alongside another house where his sister and her five children lived, took to the roof Monday and threatened to burn the house down by igniting a gas canister rather than hand it over.

Israeli forces escort a man on crutches away from the ruins of a Palestinian house they demolished in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem on Wednesday. Ahmad Gharabli / AFP - Getty Images

"I will blow myself up, with the house, with the children, with everything," he said in a telephone interview as he stood on the roof with others Monday. He eventually came down.

An excavator went to raze the property early Wednesday. NBC News saw personal items like children's books and school bags, family photos, clothes and shoes strewn in the rubble. Israel security forces prevented the family from retrieving anything.

Police said that the eviction order was first issued in 2017 and that it had been approved by multiple courts, including Jerusalem District Court.

"Members of the family living in the illegal buildings were given countless opportunities to hand over the land with consent, but unfortunately they refused to do so, even after meetings and repeated dialogue attempts by the Jerusalem municipality," a police spokesperson said in a statement.

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The Municipality of Jerusalem says that 18 classrooms, six kindergartens, sports fields and leisure facilities are set to be built on the land and that the school will be open to the local Arab community. The authority accused the family of building on the land illegally.

Members of the Salhiyeh family protest Tuesday before their eviction by Israeli Police and the Municipality of Jerusalem.Ahmad Gharabli / AFP - Getty Images

However, Waleed Abu Tayeh, the family's lawyer, said that the order was unlawful and that it went beyond what had been agreed to in court.

He said in a statement Wednesday that Salhiyeh "was willing to evict his home, but they demolished his house even though they have an eviction order, not a demolition one," adding, "This is illegal."

Tayeh also said the authorities demolished Salhiyeh's sister's house, which was not covered by the order.

However, Fleur Hassan Nahoum, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, said the order was for both eviction and demolition. She said the police action against Salhiyeh’s sister's house was consistent with the court's order.

Israel Police and the Municipality of Jerusalem have been asked about the claims.

A member of the Israeli forces stands by the ruins of a Palestinian house they demolished in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem on Wednesday. Menahem Kahana / AFP - Getty Images

Dozens of longtime Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah are battling efforts by Jewish settlers to evict them in an area that has been a site of frequent unrest in recent years.

The case, which has been in Israel’s Supreme Court for months, has drawn global attention, and it fueled last year’s Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The Salhiyeh family say they bought the property before 1967, when Israel captured east Jerusalem, while the state has argued in court that the family does not have rights to the property.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Middle East war. It later annexed the eastern half of the city — home to most of Jerusalem’s Palestinian population — in a move unrecognized by most of the international community. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Lawahez Jabari reported from Jerusalem and Patrick Smith from London.