JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police on Tuesday burst into the offices of a Palestinian cartographer who tracks Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and detained him for several hours, accusing him of illegally working for the Palestinian Authority.
It was believed to be the first arrest of its kind since Israel banned the Palestinian Authority from carrying out official business in east Jerusalem in 2001. It also illustrated the deep sensitivities over east Jerusalem, an area with deep religious and strategic significance claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians.
Khalil Tufagji, a former Palestinian negotiator, said police entered his office early Tuesday and confiscated computers and files before taking him away. He was released after several hours. Tufagji denied working for the Palestinian Authority.
Tuesday's incident reflected the deep sensitivities on both sides over the status of east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War and annexed.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its capital. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. The conflicting claims lie at the core of the conflict.
Since 1967, Israel has ringed east Jerusalem with more than half a dozen housing developments meant to cement its control. In addition, settler groups have set up small enclaves in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods — an effort the Palestinians say is meant to erode their presence in the city.
In a statement, Israeli police accused Tufagji of conducting official research for the Palestinians on Israeli land activities in east Jerusalem and presenting them as "land theft."
They claimed that he was in "constant contact" with Palestinian security forces and that his research included details on Palestinians who intend to sell east Jerusalem properties to Israelis. Palestinians consider such land sales treasonous.
"Activity by the Palestinian cartography office is part of the Palestinian Authority's plan to harm our sovereignty in Jerusalem and even to threaten Arabs selling real estate to Jews in the city," said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. He vowed to "prevent a foothold of the Palestinian government in Jerusalem."
He said Tufagji's office would remain closed for six months. But several hours later, Tufagji was freed without further comment by police.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Tufagji denied all the claims against him and said he would be permitted to reopen his office immediately.
"I proved that I have no direct connection with the Palestinian Authority. We are an NGO funded by foreign donors, not the Palestinian Authority," he said.
Tufagji is considered the foremost Palestinian expert on Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.
His activities include monitoring Israeli newspapers for advertisements announcing plans to develop areas of east Jerusalem.
He said he receives funding from Arab donors, though he shares his research with Palestinian officials, including a vast database on Israeli settlements. He said he has no contact with Palestinian security forces.
More than 200,000 Israelis now live in east Jerusalem, along with a similar number of Palestinians. Israel considers its developments to be neighborhoods of its capital, but the Palestinians and most of the international community label them as illegal settlements.
Following interim peace accords in the 1990s, Israel allowed the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, to have a limited presence in east Jerusalem.
But after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2001, it banned the authority from carrying out any political activities in the city.
Tufagji's arrest was the first of its kind, but over the years, Israel has enforced the ban in other ways, said Jawad Bulous, a Palestinian lawyer.
For instance, he said Israel has arrested a handful of Palestinian policemen who lived in east Jerusalem.
In 2005, Israel briefly detained a West Bank activist who was running in the Palestinian presidential election and tried to campaign in east Jerusalem, accusing him of illegally entering the city.