The United Nations is demanding that Israel freeze all pending demolition orders against Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

The orders were issued because the homes were built illegally. But a new report by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that Palestinians face serious obstacles in building legally, as only 13 percent of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction, while Jewish "settlements" occupy 35 percent of East Jerusalem, "in violation of international law."

The difficulty of building legally is what leads many Palestinians to build illegally, it said.

The report said the houses of some 60,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are at risk of being demolished. Moreover, it said, lack of proper planning and investment mean that Palestinian neighborhoods are overcrowded and suffer from inadequate infrastructure.

The situation has become even worse in recent years, because construction of the separation fence led many Palestinians who were living east of the fence to move to East Jerusalem to avoid being cut off from the city.

According to data received from the Jerusalem municipality, the number of Palestinian requests for building permits submitted each year more than doubled, from 2003 to 2007, rising from 138 to 283, the report said.

However, the number of permits granted remained unchanged, at about 100 to 150 per year.

House demolitions are not limited to East Jerusalem, the report noted: Israel destroys hundreds of Palestinian buildings elsewhere in the West Bank every year on the grounds that they were built illegally.

These demolitions take place in what the Oslo Accords term Area C, which is the area where Israel retains full civil as well as military control. Area C covers about 60 percent of the West Bank.

In the first quarter of 2009, the report said, Israel demolished 25 Palestinian buildings, including nine in the E1 corridor between Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem. These resulted in the eviction of 46 people, including 30 children.

Altogether, some 3,000 demolition orders are pending against Palestinian buildings in Area C, the report said. It noted that between 2000 and 2007, Israel's Civil Administration in the West Bank rejected 94 percent of all Palestinian requests for building permits in Area C.

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