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Israeli settlers storm Ibrahimi mosque; settler aggression on the rise

Aug. 9, 2008 11:36 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 9, 2008 11:36 A.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - A group of 50 armed Israeli settlers attempted to storm the Ibrahimi Mosque on Friday. The attack marks the fourth recorded settler attack in the West Bank in four days, and a general rise in aggressive tactics of settlers.

The Ibrahimi mosque is believed to be the burial site of Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob and Leah; also known as the tomb of the patriarchs, and is located in the West Bank city of Hebron.

The group of settlers attempted to enter what is now the Muslim section of the mosque, an area that represents about 81% of the structure and is under the control of the Awaqf Ministry (the traditional trust) in Palestine. All Palestinians entering the area, however, are searched by Israeli soldiers guarding the area. The remaining section is used as synagogue for Israeli settlers in and around the city of Hebron.

The Hebron settlers were able to enter the Muslim portion of the mosque on Friday before Israeli forces were able to pull the attackers out and remove them from the Palestinian area.

Attacks on the mosque by settlers are a semi-regular occurrence. On Thursday a group of settlers who have been occupying an area near the building for the past several years, threw dust at the entrance and surprised the skeikhs and mufti's in the building.

Also this week five settlers were arrested by Israeli soldiers in Nablus after trying to sneak into Joseph's shrine. Settlers are not permitted into Palestinian areas without Israeli army security, though an increasing number of violations are being recorded.

On Thursday in Beit Sahour just outside of Bethlehem, settlers assaulted peaceful worshipers trying to protect what is planned as the site of a multimillion dollar children's hospital.

Almost every week since May, steadily larger groups of Israeli settlers, mainly from the nearby settlements Har Homa, Gush Etzion, and Tekoa, have come to the area slated for hospital construction, which was an Israeli military base abandoned in 2005.

On 1 August, settlers attacked a Hebron wedding, throwing stones and bottles at those celebrating; a rock was also thrown through the windshield of a pregnant Palestinian woman's car near a Nablus settlement, injuring both her and her 7-year-old daughter. On 2 August, a young Palestinian boy in Hebron was pushed off the roof of his home by a settler. The boy broke his back and is in Hospital.

On 6 August settlers were arrested by Palestinian police after entering Nablus illegally, they were handed over to Israeli authorities. On 7 August settlers attacked British diplomats visiting Hebron, and on 8 August five settlers were arrested by Israeli soldiers after they illegally entered Nablus.

Israeli media reported this week that the army intended to "boost" security around illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, after settlers hospitalized the Pregnant woman and her daughter.

The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported that Israeli defense authorities in the West Bank ordered a special alert near for Israeli soldiers guarding the Nablus, and Hebron settlements of Havat Gilad, Adei Ad and Ma'on.

The heightened security order comes after increasing aggression and attacks by Israeli settlers all over the West Bank.

Responding to the most recent attack on the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, Minister of Al-Awaqf (Islamic trust sites) and Islamic Religious Affairs Al-Sheikh Jamal Bawatnah condemned the settlers' attempt to storm the portion of the mosque that still belongs to Muslims.

Such an attack, he said, was a "violation of the holiness of the mosque" and a serious attempt wrest control over the area away from its Muslim caretakers. He said that he feared a new massacre against "the holiness of our religious places."

The Minister phoned Ma'an on Saturday and issued a statement to Palestinian President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad and all Arabs and Muslims to redouble their efforts to oppose such Israeli practices. He appealed to all forces of the world to stand by Palestinians at this difficult time for fear of later steps to be taken by settlers.

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