Ma'an News Agency
February 24, 2010 - 1:00am

President Mahmoud Abbas warned Tuesday that Israel's plan to nationalize religious landmarks in the occupied West Bank could lead to war.

Speaking in Brussels, Abbas slammed an announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declaring Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem Israeli "national heritage sites."

Netanyahu hit back shortly after the remarks, which his office described as a "campaign of lies and hypocrisy," the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

"Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs are burial sites dating from more than 3,500 years ago of Israel's forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the nation's foremothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel – and are worthy of preservation and renovation," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.

"We are talking about a campaign of lies and hypocrisy," the statement added.

Both holy sites are located in occupied Palestinian territory, the UN's top envoy, Robert Serry, pointed out Monday, calling for calm as Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces clashed in Hebron. A general strike shut down much of Bethlehem on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called on Palestinians in the West Bank to launch an uprising against Israeli forces in response to the announcement.

"The Israeli decision to include the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron and the Bilal Bin Rabah Mosque [Rachel's Tomb] in Bethlehem on a list of Israeli heritage sites comes at a time when discussions around the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the news," Haniyeh said.

"Israel's policy is to cover old crimes with new ones," he added.

On Monday, chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the move: "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."

Netanyahu's announcement came during his government's weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. In addition to Rachel's Tomb and and the Ibrahimi Mosque, the listing also includes the West Bank sites of Herodion, Qumran, and Susiya.

Noting that the move came just as the Quartet and other members of the international community were endeavoring to restart negotiations, Erekat said the announcement "shows once again that Mr. Netanyahu is actively working to sabotage the two-state solution."


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