|President Mahmoud Abbas called it an “attack on the holy places.’’|
HEBRON, West Bank - The Palestinian Cabinet moved its weekly meeting to Hebron yesterday, a symbolic protest against Israel’s addition of a contested shrine in this volatile West Bank city to its list of national heritage sites.
Israel’s decision last week drew widespread international criticism and heightened Palestinian suspicions of Israel at a time when the United States is trying to restart peace talks.
Israelis and Palestinians have clashed frequently in the past over two West Bank shrines added to the heritage list: the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem.
The city’s brewing tensions were on display yesterday when a group of settler youths, some as young as 4 years old, threw rocks and cursed at Palestinians not far from the traditional grave of Abraham, considered the father of both Judaism and Islam.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced Israel’s move as an “attack on the holy places,’’ and his Islamic militant Hamas rivals in Gaza called for a new uprising.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said the decision was about preserving culture and not connected to politics.
Over the past week, Palestinians have thrown stones and clashed almost daily with Israeli troops in Hebron, a divided city where 500 Jewish settlers live in heavily guarded enclaves amid 170,000 Palestinians.
Netanyahu has tried to calm tensions, saying the plan was to protect the holy sites and without infringing on Muslim freedom of worship.
However, Palestinians fear the decision is another sign that Netanyahu wants to hang on to significant parts of the West Bank, a territory they want for their future Palestinian state, along with Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts told reporters in Jerusalem yesterday that he understood the Israeli leader’s desire to preserve a historical site. “But the timing and the manner of the announcement needs to be taken into account in the future,’’ Kerry said.