July 22 (UPI) -- The Israeli government has begun to demolish Palestinian apartment buildings in East Jerusalem's Sur Baher neighborhood, days after multiple United Nations officials urged them against the plan.
Israel said the homes violated a construction ban because they were too close to the West Bank separation barrier, which it considers a security risk. A year-long legal fight over the buildings went to the Israeli Supreme Court in May, when the court cleared the way for demolition. Apartment buildings slated for destruction contained about 72 units, most of which were still under construction.
The demolitions started overnight Sunday with hundreds of police officers, Israeli Defense Force soldiers and border guards present.
"They have been evacuating people from their homes by force and they have started planting explosives in the homes they want to destroy," said community leader Hamada Hamada.
So far, there have been no reports of clashes between the authorities and protesters. About 350 property owners were affected. At least one building was demolished by controlled demolition.
Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian Authority's civil affairs department, called Monday's demolition a "crime" and demanded intervention from the international community. Three U.N. officials urged Israel against the plan last week.
Israel demolished 63 housing units in the first six months of this year.