NABLUS (Ma'an) -- A Palestinian Authority official denied Tuesday that Israeli settlers had been granted permission to restore Joseph's Tomb in the northern West Bank district of Nablus, saying only the PA would be allowed to undertake the work.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said reports in Israeli media that Israeli settlers would be entering the shrine for restoration works aimed at "blackmailing" the PA and to "impose a situation where settlers achieve their goals."
The tomb, he said, was under PA control and that access to the area is granted with prior arrangement with the PA.
In mid-September settler community leaders announced that a rally would be held demanding "open access" to the Nablus area, and in particular Joseph's Tomb.
Following violence precipitated by settler visits to the site - which saw Palestinian areas closed down or put under curfew - the area was closed off to settlers in early 2000.
A statement from the Shomeron Regional Council Office, representing settler groups in the West Bank, said the ban was "Contrary to the Oslo agreement that provides access to all holy places."
The settler rally will reportedly take place on Mount Gerizim, home to the Samaritan community, most of whom attend school and work inside the Palestinian city of Nablus. They hold both Israeli and Palestinian passports.
The rally will celebrate the construction of a new fence around the tomb, as well as repair work to the roof, damaged during fighting in the first months of the Second Intifada.
According to the statement, however, settlers were concerned "that the repairs would be done by Arab work teams and that would be seen as reward to those who were responsibility for the original vandalism."