Palestinian demo comes amid heightened Hebron tensions over heritage list.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF, GREER FAY CASHMAN, YAAKOV LA
Amid heightened tensions in Hebron, Palestinians plan to march in the city on Thursday, to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the Baruch Goldstein massacre.On February 25, 1994, the Israeli American physician killed 29 Muslims who were praying at the mosque that is part of the Cave of the Patriarchs complex. He wounded another 150 before being beaten to death.The march comes after the cabinet on Sunday added the Cave of the Patriarchs to the list of Jewish heritage sites marked for renovation and preservation.To highlight the importance of the cave, Hebron’s Jewish community plans to hold a special prayer service there on Thursday, to mark the Fast of Esther.Both events are being held after three days of violence in Hebron, in which Palestinians have thrown rocks and bottles at soldiers and burned tires.The army said that on Wednesday, “an illegal disturbance broke out near the Beit Hamirkahat checkpoint. Rioters burned tires and threw rocks at IDF soldiers.”The soldiers responded with “crowd dispersal means,” the statement said, adding that there had been no injuries during the incident, which had ended by midday.The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at Glilot said an upsurge in Palestinian attacks in the West Bank had been recorded over the past week. Rock-throwers targeted army checkpoints and Israeli vehicles in recent days, the center said.On Tuesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned that placing the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem on the heritage list could spark a religious war.UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed disappointment with the cabinet decision when he met in New York with Defense Minister Ehud Barak.Ban said he regretted certain recent developments in the area, such as “the inclusion of holy sites in the occupied West Bank on an Israeli heritage list.”Earlier this week, Robert H. Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said, “I urge Israel not to take any steps on the ground which undermine trust or could prejudice negotiations.”The cave where, according to tradition, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah are buried, is the second-holiest site for Jews, after the Temple Mount.On Wednesday, President Shimon Peres met with Serry for a working session at Beit Hanassi and said that holy sites should not be a cause for conflict.There are extremist groups with vested interests – first and foremost, Hamas – which are creating new, artificial conflicts on the ground, Peres told his guest.Explaining the cabinet recent decision with regard to the holy sites, Peres said that resources would be invested in infrastructure and in making the sites more accessible to more worshipers, and that Israel would continue with its policy of freedom of worship for all faiths.The idea was to preserve holy sites to prevent them from falling into further disrepair, without in any way offending the sensibilities of Christians and Muslims or denying them access, said Peres, who asked Serry to make this clear to Ban.Serry, who came to Jerusalem after a series of meetings with leading figures in the PA, discussed what he perceived as a growing crisis of confidence between the Palestinians and the Israelis and emphasized the importance of flexibility in order to significantly advance the diplomatic process.Nonetheless, he was optimistic that hurdles could be overcome and that talks between the sides could resume in the near future.Serry underscored UN efforts to support the resumption of meaningful negotiations. He also appealed for additional Israeli steps to enable the PA to control more of the West Bank.Peres said there was no alternative to direct talks, and that any delay by the Palestinians could only be to their detriment, since failure to reach an accord means further postponement of the establishment of a Palestinian state.He assured Serry that there is consensus in Israel for the principle of two states for two peoples existing side-by-side.Peres added that he had no doubt that the conclusion of negotiations would differ considerably from opening gambits. There was no way to determine at the outset how negotiations would end, he said, but the sooner they start, the better the outcome will be.
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