Holy Jewish site torched by Palestinians

  • 16/10/2015

By Steve Weizman

Palestinians have torched a site revered by Jews in the West Bank overnight, Israeli and Palestinian sources say, amid calls for fresh protests after more than two weeks of deadly unrest.

Video showed what looked like an extensive blaze at the site in the northern city of Nablus known as Joseph's Tomb, and the Israeli army called the attack "a despicable act" of desecration.

Palestinians have called for a "Friday of revolution" against Israel and Jerusalem police barred men under 40 years of age from attending the main weekly prayers at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque, seeking to keep young protesters away.

Israeli security forces have deployed massively in Jerusalem after two weeks of Palestinian attacks in the city and across Israel.

"Police and border police forces will act with determination and without compromise against any attempt to disturb order or public safety," a police statement said late on Thursday (local time).

The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting at Jordan's request on Friday to discuss the upsurge of violence.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday reiterated his willingness to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, while accusing him of inciting and encouraging violence.

"It's time that President Abbas stops not only justifying it, but also calling for it," Netanyahu told reporters.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also warned the Palestinian leader not to incite violence.

"President Abbas has been committed to non-violence. He needs to be condemning this, loudly and clearly," said Kerry, who plans to travel to the region "in the coming days" to try to calm tempers.

Abbas has called for peaceful protest, but frustrated Palestinian youths have defied attempts to restore calm.

Joseph's Tomb, inside a compound in the Palestinian refugee camp of Balata in Nablus, has been the scene of recurring violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Many Jews believe it to be the final resting place of the biblical Joseph, while Muslims believe that an Islamic cleric, Sheikh Yussef (Joseph) Dawiqat was buried there two centuries ago.

The shrine is under Palestinian control and off-limits to Israelis except on escorted trips organised by the army.

The military said it would make the repairs necessary to allow visits to continue.

"The burning and desecration of Joseph's tomb last night is a blatant violation and contradiction of the basic value of freedom of worship," spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said.

"The Israel Defence Forces will take all measures to bring the perpetrators of this despicable act to justice, restore the site to its previous condition and ensure that the freedom of worship returns to Joseph's Tomb."

There has been a spate of stabbing attacks and violent protests have swept the Palestinian territories.

Seven Israelis have been killed and dozens wounded.

At least 30 Palestinians have also died, including alleged attackers, and hundreds more been wounded in clashes with Israeli forces.

Netanyahu has come under immense pressure to halt the violence.

Abbas again called on Wednesday night for peaceful resistance, but young people fed up with Israel's occupation and the lack of progress in peace efforts have grown tired of his leadership.

The attackers seem to be mostly acting on their own. With no mastermind to pursue, that poses a major challenge to security forces.

The violence began on October 1, when a suspected cell of the Islamist movement Hamas murdered a Jewish settler couple in the West Bank in front of their children.

Those killings followed repeated clashes at east Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound in September between Israeli forces and Palestinian youths.