JERUSALEM  - By fair means or foul, Jewish settlers are notching up property gains in the heart of Arab east Jerusalem through a series of shady deals involving frontmen or straw companies.

The process by which such properties are acquired is shrouded in mystery, with the new Jewish occupants often moving in under the cover of darkness to avoid a major confrontation with residents. The latest controversial acquisitions took place in Silwan, a densely populated Palestinian neighbourhood on a steep hillside flanking the southern walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. In the past three weeks, hardline settlers have moved into 35 apartments there, sparking anger and consternation among Palestinians who vehemently oppose such moves as a hostile attempt to Judaise Silwan. Some were allegedly acquired fraudulently, and others legally.

Jewish groups buying up property in the heart of Arab neighbourhoods is an explosive political issue because it touches on the future of east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as capital of a future state.

The groups are looking to establish a contiguous Jewish presence in the area, thereby preventing any future division of the Holy City under a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Israel’s navy arrested seven Palestinian fishermen off northern Gaza on Wednesday, officials on both sides said, with the army claiming their boats had strayed beyond the permitted fishing limit.

“The Israeli navy arrested seven fishermen from one family in Sudaniya in the sea off northern Gaza,” the head of the Gaza fishermen’s syndicate, Nizar Ayash, told AFP. The army confirmed the arrest of seven fishermen on two boats, saying they had strayed beyond the six-nautical mile fishing limit imposed as part of Israel’s naval blockade.

“This morning, two vessels sailed beyond the permitted fishing zone,” a spokeswoman told AFP, saying troops had fired warning shots to halt them that were ignored.

Two Israeli soldiers were wounded on Wednesday when unidentified gunmen in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula fired shots and an anti-tank missile at their vehicle near the border, the army said.

The incident took place along a section of the border which lies some 60 kilometres (40 miles) south of the Gaza Strip, army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said.

“About 2:00 pm (1100 GMT), we had shots and an anti-tank missile fired at a vehicle that was on the border,” Lerner told reporters, saying that two soldiers who were patrolling had sustained light-to-medium injuries.

The army said a female officer and a male soldier had been injured in the incident, both of whom are members of the predominantly female Caracal battalion, which is responsible for defending the Israel-Egypt border.

Meanwhile, Israel on Wednesday reassured Jordan that it would not allow Jewish prayer at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, after reports of a possible change raised concerns in the Arab world.

“There is no intention of changing the status quo on the Temple Mount,” a source in the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, using the Israeli term for the compound which is located in the Old City.

The plaza is often at the centre of tensions because it is the third holiest site in Islam but also the most sacred place in Judaism.