Chaim Levinson, Anshel Pfeffer
April 24, 2011 - 12:00am

Palestinian security forces opened fire early Sunday on three cars full of Israelis who entered the West Bank compound of Joseph's Tomb without permission and then tried to break through a local checkpoint, according to an initial investigation by the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinian Authority.

Ben-Joseph Livnat, a 25-year-old father of four and nephew of Culture and Science Minister Limor Livnat, was killed in the shooting. Three other people were wounded, and are in light to serious conditions.

A senior Israel Defense Forces termed the incident "a serious mishap caused by both sides." The army is refraining from referring to the shooting as a terror attack, but has called it an unjustified attack against civilians.

The Palestinian Authority opened its own investigation into the matter, and reported that that the officer on duty began shooting in the air in response to the Israelis' "suspicious movement".

Defense Minister Ehud Barak condemned the incident as "murder" and ordered the IDF to carry out an investigation of its own. He also demanded the Palestinians probe the incident quickly and take every step necessary to perpetrate those responsible.

"No problem of coordination can justify an incident like this and the shooting of innocent people," he said.

The officers on duty during the shooting were detained for questioning by the Palestinian Authority, but it is not yet clear whether they will be taken in for investigation by Israeli forces as well.

Livnat and the other three casualties were part of a group of some 15 worshipers who entered the site in three separate cars without military authorization. A Palestinian Authority representative said that the officer fired into the air because he believed that the group was acting suspiciously, but did not aim at the car.

"The main problem is that they [the Israelis] entered the city without coordination," said Jibril al-Bakri, the Palestinian governor of Nablus.

The tomb, which some believe to be the final resting place of the Biblical patriarch Joseph, is located in an area of the West Bank under full Palestinian control.

Hours after the incident, dozens of Palestinians rioted near Joseph's Tomb, and burned tires, Israel Radio reported.

The tomb was attacked and ransacked by Palestinians at the start of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, and one of the Israeli policemen stationed there was killed.

After 2003, Jews were allowed intermittent access, which was expanded in 2009 to one coordinated monthly midnight visit.

Despite military warnings, flocks of Bratslav Hasidim and other religious pilgrims routinely enter the compound to pray without permission, often late at night. Shots have been fired in the past at such groups entering without authorization.

Security forces have tried to crack down on the unauthorized pilgrimages and have in the past arrested trespassers, though every detainee has been released within hours without significant penalty.

A military spokesman on Sunday stressed that the army coordinated a monthly pilgrimage to the site for hundreds of worshipers, to give them authorized and secure access to the site. One such visit was held just two weeks ago, said the spokesman.


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