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Clashes in W. Bank over Israel restoration plans.

Summary: Palestinians clashed with Israeli troops in the West Bank town of Hebron on Monday amid outrage over Israel's plan to restore two flashpoint holy sites in the occupied territory.

Dozens of

Palestinians clashed with Israeli troops in the West Bank town of Hebron on Monday amid outrage over Israel's plan to restore two flashpoint holy sites in the occupied territory.

Dozens of young Palestinians hurled rocks at an Israeli military checkpoint in the city as troops fired tear-gas and stun grenades, an AFP correspondent said. A strike closed down shops and schools.

"Approximately 100 Palestinians were burning tires and throwing rocks at IDF (Israeli military) soldiers," an army spokeswoman said, adding that one soldier was slightly injured. There were no reports of any Palestinians wounded.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sparked anger on Sunday when he said he hoped to include the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem in a $100 million plan to restore national heritage sites.

"We strongly condemn this decision which yet again confirms the Israeli government's determination to impose facts on the ground," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP by phone from Paris, where he was accompanying Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on an official visit.

"We call on the international community to consider this decision illegal," he said. "This Israeli decision is provocative for Muslims around the world and especially Palestinians."

"Declaration of war"

Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi, who heads the Palestinian Islamic courts, said the decision "amounts to a declaration of war against the Islamic holy sites in Palestine."

"The practices of the Israeli occupation and its actions against the holy sites violate divine laws and international ones," he added.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where the biblical figure Abraham is believed buried, is sacred to both Muslims and Jews and has long been the scene of tensions.

A few hundred hard-line Jewish settlers under heavy Israeli military protection have taken up residence near the site and converted part of the Ibrahimi mosque above it into a synagogue.

The mosque was the site of the infamous massacre of 29 Palestinians in 1994 by Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein, who was himself later killed by the crowd.

More than 160,000 Palestinians live in Hebron, from which the Israeli military partially withdrew in 1998.

The tomb of the Jewish matriarch Rachel is in an Israeli enclave in the West Bank town of Bethlehem surrounded by eight-meter (24-foot) high concrete walls.

Right-wing pressure

Israeli media reported that the two disputed sites had been included in the plan only after pressure from nationalist ministers in Netanyahu's right-leaning coalition government.

Peace talks have been suspended for more than a year over the issue of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, including mostly Arab east Jerusalem, annexed by Israel in 1967 in a move not recognized internationally.

Also on Sunday, some 50 Jewish settlers and Israeli right-wing activists entered the Palestinian city of Jericho and barricaded themselves inside a synagogue. An Israeli army spokesman said soldiers had evacuated the settlers.

Netanyahu, who last year ordered a limited 10-month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank, says he is ready to resume peace talks immediately and without preconditions.

Abbas says peace talks cannot resume without a full settlement freeze that includes East Jerusalem.

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Publication:Al Arabiya (Saudi Arabia)
Date:Feb 21, 2010
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