Israeli troops have clashed with Palestinians in the West Bank for the fifth straight day. Religious tensions are running high.
Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers in the biblical West Bank town of Hebron; troops responded with tear gas and stun grenades. It was the fifth day of clashes in Hebron, which is home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Abraham, the common forefather of both Jews and Arabs, is buried there and the site is a flashpoint of Jewish-Muslim tensions.
Palestinians declared Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, a day of protest in response to Israel's declaration of the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem as "National Heritage Sites." Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad prayed at the Tomb of the Patriarchs on Friday and charged Israel with annexing the site. He vowed that the site would one day be controlled by a Palestinian state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of trying to ignite a "religious war," and protesters took to the streets of Hebron.
One stone thrower told Israeli TV that Israel must give up control of the Tomb of the Patriarchs. He said it is a Muslim holy place which must be returned to the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to ease tensions. Mr. Netanyahu said nothing has changed at the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Israel would continue to guarantee freedom of worship for Jews and Muslims alike.
But in a strong rebuke from the United States, the State Department said Israel's decision on the holy places is "provocative" and harms efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.