‘Israel grabbing Palestinian soil in the name of preserving history’

London: Israeli settlers are colonising Palestinian territory under the guise of protecting archaeological sites, the British government has said, according to media reports.

British ministers have warned that the Israeli government agency responsible for preserving historic artefacts is undermining efforts for peace in the region by working with a group of “radical” settlers, The Independent reported on Monday.

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The “Elad” group of settlers is known for aggressively colonising Palestinian areas, including evicting Palestinian residents from their homes in urban areas.

“We are aware of the link between the Elad (settler) group and the Israel Antiquities Authority. We are concerned that this link has led to Israel Antiquities Authority’s support of radical settler activities in and around the Old City under the guise of tourism and protection of Jewish history,” Conservative Foreign Office minister Baroness Anelay said.

“Such actions not only aggravate mounting pressures in East Jerusalem, but serve to increase tension around the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and further complicate future attempts to negotiate a political resolution in the city.”

Elad has reportedly paid the Israeli Antiquities Authority earlier to dig deep trenches near the foundations of Palestinian homes and mosques in East Jerusalem.

Palestinian residents of the area blamed the excavations for the collapse of a number of their buildings, according to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which The Independent cited.

Last week, Elad settlers were reported to have entered an East Jerusalem apartment building and removed the belongings of the Palestinian residents.

In a statement, the settler group said that the property belonged to them and it had “exercised its rights”.

Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and the UN has repeatedly told the country’s government to vacate occupied Palestinian territory.

Human rights groups have also criticised the settlements, which Amnesty International says are responsible for “a myriad of human rights violations”.

Since 1978, the Israeli Antiquities Authority has been charged with identifying, preserving and excavating historical artefacts in the region.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this month during his campaign for the general election, which he won that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch.

His statement drew criticism from the US, considered an ally of Israel, which said it would “reassess” its stance on the conflict in the region.