Israeli heritage plan draws Palestinian protests

Mon Feb 22, 2010 2:42pm EST
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By Ali Sawafta

HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) - Israel's plan to include the biblical Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank in a project for rehabilitating Jewish and Zionist heritage sites touched off violent Palestinian protests on Monday.

Palestinian security forces deployed to break up hundreds of demonstrators throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers in the divided flashpoint city of Hebron, where the shrine is located. The Israeli troops fired tear gas at the protesters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday he intended to include the Tomb of the Patriarchs and several other Jewish religious shrines in territory Israel captured in a 1967 war in a $107 million plan to restore Jewish heritage sites.

"A person must know his homeland and its cultural and historical vistas. That is what we are going to instill in this generation and in the next generations ... for the glory of the Jewish people," he said.

Khaled Esseleh, the mayor of Hebron, said: "I'm hoping there won't be more clashes but this is a very sensitive religious issue, and Netanyahu just lit the fire."

Palestinians are calling the move an attempt to seize land and holy sites on Israeli-occupied land where they hope to build a future state.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the "unilateral decision to make Palestinian sites in Hebron and Bethlehem part of Israel shows there is no genuine partner for peace, but an occupying power intent on consolidating Palestinian lands."

While major powers worked to restart negotiations, "Netanyahu is actively working to sabotage the two-state solution," Erekat said in a statement.   Continued...

<p>Israeli border police officers walk outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site holy to Muslims and Jews, in the West Bank city of Hebron February 22, 2010. REUTERS/Ammar Awad</p>