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Clashes erupt over West Bank religious shrines

The Tomb of the Patriarchs has been a point of frequent conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs has been a point of frequent conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sites include Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem and Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron
  • Tomb of the Patriarchs is known to Palestinians as Ibrahimi mosque
  • Tomb revered by Jews and Muslims as holy and has been a point of frequent conflict
  • Rachel's Tomb is known to Palestinians as the mosque of Bilal
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Jerusalem (CNN) -- Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers broke out Monday, a day after Israel announced it would include two West Bank religious shrines as part of a larger list of 150 Zionist heritage sites.

About 100 protesters were throwing stones and burning tires in the West Bank city of Hebron, the Israeli military said. Palestinian eyewitnesses reported that several protesters had been injured by tear gas and rubber bullets.

The clashes come in the wake of a special Sunday Cabinet meeting held at one of the "national heritage" sites where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined a plan to invest more than $100 million on national heritage infrastructure.

"People must be familiar with their homeland and its cultural and historical vistas," he said. "This is what we will instill in this and coming generations, to the glory -- if I may say -- of the Jewish people."

Included in the list of sites are Rachel's Tomb in Palestinian city of Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the city of Hebron.

A top United Nations official said the inclusion of sites in the West Bank raised concerns because they were "in occupied Palestinian territory."

The Tomb of the Patriarchs -- known to Palestinians as Ibrahimi mosque -- is in Hebron, a West Bank city that houses about 500 Jews heavily guarded by Israeli soldiers, who live among about 170,000 Palestinians.

The tomb is revered by Jews and Muslims as holy and has been a point of frequent conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians for years. In 1994, an Israeli settler entered the tomb and opened fire on the Muslim worshippers, killing 29 before he was beaten to death.

Rachel's Tomb is known to Palestinians as the mosque of Bilal.

The Palestinian reaction after the announcement was fast and furious. A statement by the Revolutionary Council of Fatah, the political faction in charge of the Palestinian Authority, called the Israeli plan a move to "consolidate the occupation" and an effort at "judaizing" Palestinian land.

Dr. Hamdan Taha, an official at the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Tourism, said the the two sites were "an integral part of Palestinian culture" and that if the Israeli government persisted in its efforts, "Palestinians will feel free to nominate sites inside the green line in their heritage list."

Green line refers to the border before Israel occupied the West Bank.

Nationalist and right wing parties in Israel praised the government move and called for the inclusion of more West Bank locations to the list of heritage sites.

Robert H. Serry, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, also expressed concern.

"These sites are in occupied Palestinian territory and are of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism but also to Islam, and to Christianity as well," he said in a statement.

"I urge Israel not to take any steps on the ground which undermine trust or could prejudice negotiations, the resumption of which should be the highest shared priority of all who seek peace."

Nationalist and right-wing parties in Israel praised the government move and called for the inclusion of more West Bank locations to the list of heritage sites.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu, said no one could deny that the two West Bank locations were of historical and religious significance to the Jews. He said the danger of their inclusion on a list of sites to the peace process was overstated.

 
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