Charles Levinson, Natasha Mozgovaya
April 1, 2010 - 12:00am

Thousands of Israelis gathered Thursday at the Cave of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron to celebrate the addition of the location to Israel's list of national heritage sites, a move initiated by the Land of Israel caucus in the Knesset.

"The masses that have come here, including the 40 members of the Land of Israel caucus, are a guarantee and proof that no one will move us from the Cave of the Patriarchs, not even Hussein Obama," MK Ayoob Kara (Likud) told the crowd.

"The Prime minister needs to say 'no' to Barack Hussein Obama, and 'yes' to the people of Israel, who have come here in their multitudes today. He needs to grant permits to start building in settlements and in all of Israel," he added.

MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) responded to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent comments comparing construction in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, saying, "We love Tel Aviv, but it is 101 years old, while Jerusalem is 3,000 years old and Hebron is 4,000 years old."

"On this holiday, which marks our passage from slavery to freedom, we need to maintain our freedom and not let anyone dictate to us where we can and cannot build," she added.

Bus loads of people arrived at the controversial site in Hebron from the early hours of the morning, including several right-wing members of Knesset.

A U.S. State Department official on Thursday said, "We understand that tensions are high [in Hebron]."

"We continue to urge all parties to act responsibly and do whatever is necessary to maintain calm," the official added.

MK Gila Gamliel (Likud), who joined in the celebration, said that Jerusalem will forever remain the capital of Israel, and Hebron has always been a part of Israel.

Earlier on Thursday, an Israeli woman was lightly hurt after Palestinians hurled stones at the tour bus she was riding on in Hebron.

The bus, which was bringing the tourists to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, mistakenly entered the Palestinian part of the city and was stoned by school students.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers deployed to the area to disperse the crowd. The injured woman was taken to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, for treatment.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last month that the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem would both be added to the list of national heritage sites that the government plans to promote.

The move drew protests from the Palestinians, who said it could ignite a religious war, and criticism from the United Nations and United States, who said the designation of the two sites could harm efforts to renew peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

MKs who worked toward having the two shrines declared heritage sites were to receive special certificates of appreciation and a musical program was scheduled for Thursday's ceremony.

The Cave of the Patriarchs was to be open only to Jews for the day.


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