W. Bank sealed off for Purim

Fayyad: Israel trying to annex Hebron site.

February 27, 2010 21:53
3 minute read.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad

fayyaf hebron 311. (photo credit: AP)

Amid escalating violence in Hebron, the IDF will be on high alert throughout the West Bank on Sunday out of fear that settlers, celebrating Purim, will clash with Palestinians.

On Saturday, the IDF clamped a closure on the territories for the duration of Purim which will end Monday night in walled cities like Jerusalem. Additional forces will be deployed in defined “hot spots” to prevent friction between Palestinians and settlers.

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While Hebron was quiet over the weekend, defense officials said there were fears that violence would escalate in the city as well as other parts of the West Bank, particularly in northern Samaria, on Purim day. Palestinians have been engaged in a series of protests following last Sunday’s cabinet decision to add the Cave of the Patriarchs to the list of national heritage sites.

On Thursday, sporadic violence broke out throughout Hebron and the IDF significantly increased its presence in the city. Soldiers stood guard at many points in the Israeli-controlled part of the city. A number of soldiers were posted on the roof of the building opposite the Cave of the Patriarchs.

Head of the Civil Administration Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai spoke with Palestinian officials in an effort to ease tensions and prevent further violence. Mordechai specifically asked that PA security forces that operate in Hebron work to prevent additional demonstrations.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad visited Hebron on Friday and prayed at the Cave of the Patriarchs on Friday afternoon, criticizing Israel’s decision to add the site and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem to the list of Jewish heritage sites marked for renovation and preservation.

Speaking to reporters after prayers, Fayyad accused Israel of “annexing” the Cave of the Patriarchs.

“[Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s decision has a dangerous political nature. The site is an inseparable part of the occupied Palestinian territories,” Channel 10 quoted Fayyad as saying.

“This is the central reason we oppose the Israeli government’s decision,” Fayyad reportedly said.

Meanwhile, a violent demonstration by dozens of Palestinian protesters in Hebron against the heritage list decision ended on Friday evening. The protesters hurled rocks at IDF troops and Border Police forces near the Jewish quarter in the city, and security forces were using non-lethal weapons to disperse the rioters. One protester was arrested, Army Radio reported.

Forces in Hebron had been on heightened alert, preparing for the possibility of continued rioting in the city. Officials were concerned that violence would escalate following sermons during Friday prayers in the city’s mosques.

Two Palestinian protesters were reportedly injured in clashes on Thursday, a day after the Obama administration sharply criticized Israel for its move.

According to Palestinian reports, four demonstrators were also arrested in the violence just meters from the cave, where dozens of youths threw rocks at Border Police and IDF soldiers.

The security forces fired tear gas canisters to disperse the protesters, who had gathered to protest the Israeli decision.

The government’s move, announced Sunday, has drawn wide criticism, including from the United Nations. US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the administration viewed the move as provocative and unhelpful to the goal of getting the two sides back to the table.

Toner said US displeasure with the designations of the Cave of the Patriarchs in the flash point town of Hebron and the traditional tomb of the biblical matriarch Rachel in Bethlehem had been conveyed to senior Israeli officials by American diplomats.

Netanyahu has attempted to calm the spirits, saying there is no intention to change the status quo at the worship sites. Freedom of worship would be maintained, he said, and the purpose of the decision was to allow renovation and maintain the current status.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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