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Palestinians condemn demolition of shops Israel says were illegal

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Jerusalem (AFP)

Palestinian officials condemned Israel's demolition on Wednesday of 21 businesses and petrol stations authorities said were built illegally in Jerusalem's Shuafat refugee camp.

Israeli police confirmed in a statement authorities had demolished "18 illegal businesses and three illegal petrol stations" in annexed east Jerusalem's Shuafat refugee camp, where an estimated 24,000 Palestinians live.

Israeli authorities entered the camp with excavators to destroy the structures as police formed a security perimeter, an AFP journalist reported.

"The municipality will continue to carry out activities with the support of the police against illegal business in the different areas," the police statement said.

Ahmad Abu Holy, head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's refugee department, condemned the demolitions that he said were "under the illegal pretext of building without a permit".

He made the comments to official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Palestinians in east Jerusalem and in parts of the West Bank say its nearly impossible for them to obtain the required building permits from Israeli authorities.

Khader Dibs, an official from the camp, which is surrounded by Israel's separation wall and is the only refugee camp within Jerusalem, also condemned the demolitions and said the shops had been built in 2007.

Shop owners said they had been given only 12 hours' advance notice.

Shuafat camp receives little from Jerusalem's municipality. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, operates there and provides various services to residents.

The outgoing mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, said recently he wanted to remove the UN agency from the city and replace its services with those from the municipality.

The issue is a highly sensitive one as it touches on the rights of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem, both key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel argues the number of Palestinian refugees is inflated, since those eligible for the status include the original refugees' descendants.

Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

It claims the entire city as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

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