The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process has expressed concern over Israel's inclusion of Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs and Bethlehem's Rachel’s Tomb
in the National Heritage Plan, and the "heightened tensions" that have resulted.
"These sites are in occupied Palestinian territory and are of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam, and to Christianity as well," said Robert Serry in a statement Monday. "I urge Israel not to take any steps on the ground which undermine trust or could prejudice negotiations, the resumption of which should be the highest shared priority of all who seek peace."
Serry called for "restraint and calm,"adding that he would like to see "more positive steps by Israel to enable Palestinian development and state-building in the area and throughout the West Bank, reflecting a genuine commitment to the two state solution."
Earlier Monday in Hebron, a crowd of Palestinian youths pelted IDF soldiers with stones and empty bottles, drawing tear gas and stun grenades.
Hebron merchants shuttered their stores to protest of Sunday's heritage plan decision, and some 100 youths burned tires and threw stones and bottles at IDF troops in the city. The IDF said a soldier was lightly wounded, while Palestinians said three protesters suffered from tear gas inhalation.
Netanyahu said the Hebron and Bethlehem sites must be preserved because they show Jews' ancient ties to Israel.
"Our existence here doesn't just depend on the might of the
military or our economic and technological strength," Netanyahu said.
"It is anchored first and foremost in our national and emotional
Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib
condemned the decision and warned it could take the Israel-Palestinian
conflict in a dangerous direction.
"We believe that this
particular violation is very dangerous because it might add to the
religious nature of the conflict," Khatib said.