Hebron clashes over Israel's West Bank heritage list

Arab-Israel Relations Materials 28 February 2010 01:13 (UTC +04:00)
Palestinians and Israeli security forces have clashed in the West Bank city of Hebron, BBC reported.
Hebron clashes over Israel's West Bank heritage list

Palestinians and Israeli security forces have clashed in the West Bank city of Hebron, BBC reported.

The protests follow an Israeli move to to designate two West Bank shrines as heritage sites.

The move, announced on Sunday, has drawn criticism abroad and in some of the Israeli media.

Palestinian Authority PM Salam Fayyad attended Friday prayers at the Cave of Patriarchs - one of the sites - to show his government's opposition.

Palestinian organisations had declared Friday a day of popular protest across the Palestinian territories.

Protests continued sporadically all week and on Thursday the Palestinian Authority in Bethlehem began a three-day strike.

Jon Donnison, the BBC's West Bank and Gaza correspondent, said Israeli troops fired rounds of tear gas at around 100 Palestinian protestors who threw stones and set fire to tyres in the central streets of Hebron on Friday.

Hebron is home to about 160,000 Muslims, but some 500 Israelis and Jews live in a small settlement in the centre of the city, with a heavy Israeli security detail.

Restoration plan

On Sunday, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron would be included in an Israeli-funded $107m (£69m) restoration plan. Both sites are sacred to Muslims and Jews.

Rachel, the biblical matriarch holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, is believed to be buried in a tomb near the entrance to Bethlehem.

Some Muslims say the tomb is also a mosque.

The shrine is on the Israeli side of the West Bank barrier. The Israelis say the barrier was built for security reasons, but Palestinians say it constitutes a land grab, and the International Court of Justice has ruled that the barrier is illegal and should be removed where it does not follow the Green Line, the internationally recognised boundary between the West Bank and Israel.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is where the Bible says Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried with three of their wives. It is known to Muslims as the al-Ibrahimi mosque.

Palestinians said they feared their access to the sites - important to Muslims and Jews - would be limited by restoration work. This was denied by Israeli officials.

'Not political'

In a bid to calm tensions, Mr Netanyahu told Israeli television on Thursday that there had been a "misunderstanding".

"This is not a political decision It doesn't change anything in that sense. It is concerned with preserving heritage," he said.

But the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Unesco - the United Nations' culture and education body - and some European countries have expressed reservations at the plan. On Wednesday, US state department official Mark Toner described the move as "provocative".

Mr Netanyahu has also come under fire in the national press. Left-leaning Haaretz newspaper called the prime minister a "master pyromaniac".

The right-wing Maariv newspaper was also critical, accusing the premier of "having learnt nothing from the past".