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Palestinians set fire to shrine amid rising tensions on West Bank

Storks fly over a section of Israel’s separation barrier, between the Israeli Kibbutz Kramim and the West Bank village of Arab al Fureijat (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Storks fly over a section of Israel’s separation barrier, between the Israeli Kibbutz Kramim and the West Bank village of Arab al Fureijat (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Palestinians set fire to a West Bank shrine revered by Jews as Israeli forces operated in the occupied territory following a spate of recent Palestinian attacks in Israel, the Israeli military said on Sunday.

The developments come as tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have escalated during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which this year converges with major Jewish and Christian holidays. Protests and tensions around the holiday last year boiled over into the 11-day Gaza war.

Military spokesman Brigadier General Ran Kochav told Israeli Army Radio that about 100 Palestinians marched toward the site late on Saturday, rioted and set it ablaze before they were dispersed by Palestinian security forces. Images on social media showed parts of the tomb inside the shrine smashed and charred.

Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus is a flashpoint prayer site. Some Jews believe the biblical Joseph is buried in the tomb, while Muslims say a sheikh is buried there. The army escorts Jewish worshippers to the site several times a year, in coordination with Palestinian security forces.

Israel Politics
Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett, left, said he was shocked by the attack on the tomb (Ronen Zvulun/Pool Photo via AP)

The incident drew condemnation from Israeli leaders. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he was shocked by the images and said Israel would locate the perpetrators and repair the damage.

“The vandalism of Joseph’s Tomb is a grave event and a serious violation of freedom of worship in one of the holiest places for every Jew,” defence minister Benny Gantz tweeted.

Also on Sunday, the military said forces near a West Bank village opened fire at the lower body of a suspect who did not stop as asked as she was approaching the soldiers. The Palestinian Health Ministry said the suspect, a woman in her 40s, died from her injuries in a hospital.

The incidents come as Israeli forces continued to operate in Jenin and the surrounding area, home to two of the attackers who staged deadly attacks against Israelis in recent weeks.

Jenin governor, Akram Rajoub, denounced the ongoing Israeli activity in the area, saying it was an act of revenge being carried out on all the area’s residents.

A raid on the hometown of one of the assailants on Saturday sparked a gun battle in the occupied West Bank that left at least one Palestinian militant dead.

Military spokesman Kochav said forces in the West Bank were making arrests, gathering intelligence and preparing the homes of the attackers for demolition.

“We will be at every place at any time as needed to cut off these terror attacks. Israel is going on the offensive,” Bennett told a meeting of his Cabinet.

A military statement said a “violent riot” broke out as forces were operating in the village of Yabad, home to one of the attackers. It said forces responded to the riot with live fire and “neutralised” one Palestinian who threw an explosive at them. It was unclear what his condition was.

Forces arrested at least eight suspects and found Israeli military ammunition and uniforms in one of the suspect’s homes as well as illegal arms, the military said.

Jenin is considered a stronghold of Palestinian militants. Israeli forces often come under fire when operating in the area. Even the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank and coordinates with Israel on security matters, appears to have little control.

While Israel has eased some restrictions on Palestinians during Ramadan, on Saturday Israel tightened them on Jenin, imposing a partial lockdown on all residents aside from labourers working in Israel.

Rajoub called the measures “an expression of collective punishment” which were meant to disrupt the lives of Palestinians rather than thwart attacks.

Four attacks by Palestinians in recent weeks have killed more than a dozen people in one of the deadliest bursts of violence against Israelis in years.