Ma'an News Agency
February 22, 2010 - 1:00am

Confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces were reported in Hebron on Monday, as public figures declare a general strike across the city, amidst growing anger at the Israeli cabinet's decision to include two religious sites in the occupied West Bank, including Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque.

Protesters in the southern part of the city set tires alight, while in the city center, an Israeli military outpost at the entrance of Ash-Shuhada' street, closed off to Palestinians, was pelted with stones. According to locals, Israeli soldiers used stun grenades against demonstrators.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said that about 100 Palestinians were rioting in the area, "hurling rocks in a violent and illegal riot." One soldier was lightly injured as a result, she said.

Confrontations reportedly erupted near the Tariq Ibn Ziad school, between students and Israeli soldiers in the southern part of the city.

Students left schools early and rallied across the city calling for an intervention in the "Judaization of the Ibrahimi Mosque."

Public figures react

In Yatta, south of Hebron, a strike was also called for. Governor of the city, Zahran Abu Qbeita denounced the Israeli decision to include both the Ibrahimi Mosque and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem on the Israeli heritage list, saying it violates Palestinians' right to access holy sites and impedes efforts to restart the peace process.

The Mufti of Palestine Sheikh Muhammad Hussein said "the occupation has devoted all of its efforts to steal Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, Hebron, and Palestinian cities to change their Arab and Islamic character to prove the country is Jewish."

Minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs Mahmoud Habbash said the decision was an attack against Muslims across the world, humanity and civilization as a whole, and reiterated that it would have a negative impact on peace talks.

"This is an attempt to seize Palestinian cultural and religious symbols and use them to serve the Zionist scheme on Palestinian lands, aimed at obstructing the efforts of the Palestinian leadership and the international community to end the occupation and achieve peace in the region," Habbash said.

In Hebron, Fatah further called for a general strike and condemned the action as an attempt to steal Palestinian heritage and culture. "This is a new crime in the occupation's lexicon," a party statement said, which called on Arab nations to break their silence.

The Israeli heritage site list

Following a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that two religious sites in the occupied West Bank would be among 150 Israeli heritage sites considered for renovation within his "Plan to Rehabilitate and Strengthen Israel's National Heritage Infrastructures."

The upgrade affects Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque, known to Israelis as the Cave of the Patriachs, and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem.

Renovation projects are tipped to cost 400 million Israeli shekels (approximately 110 million US dollars).

'An act of aggression against cultural and religious rights'

Palestinian Authority officials immediately condemned the initiative.

"This announcement is an act of aggression against the cultural and religious rights of the Palestinian people," said Dr Hamdan Taha, director of the PA Tourism Ministry's antiquities department, in a telephone interview.

"Instead of making use of heritage to promote peace, it is being used as a means to promote war," Taha said, maintaining that the proposal's timing could not be discounted: "This is clearly intended to obstruct the peace process."

Also noting that the shrines in question are holy to many faiths, Taha insisted that Netanyahu's plan to designate them as Israeli heritage sites "reflects an artificial history that solely serves Israel's settlement policy."


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