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Factions say 'no way' to settler visits in Nablus

June 16, 2011 3:48 P.M. (Updated: June 17, 2011 11:41 A.M.)
NABLUS (Ma'an) -- A committee in Nablus have said they "refuse and condemn" Palestinian Authority dialogue with settler groups who wish to visit Joseph's Tomb, a holy site in the city where biblical figure Joseph is thought to be buried.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Factional Coordination Committee, including six leftist groups, addressed a Tuesday night event which saw PA police facilitate a visit to the shrine by eight right-wing members of Israel's parliament.

The group called the move a "dangerous indication," saying PA police should "protect our people from occupation forces and settler aggression instead of protecting the settler leaders."

Factions questioned the motives of the police, and cast suspicion on increased coordination with Israeli forces, accusing them of colluding with the occupation and working to oppress Palestinians.

The statement, signed by officials from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian People's Party, the Palestinian Democratic Union (Fida), the Palestinian Liberation Front, and the Arab Liberation Front, was the latest reaction to changes in the way visits to the area are coordinated.

Israel has made illegal settler visits to the area without military accompaniment, citing security concerns.

The tomb area has experienced a fraught history since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, with an 1975 order prohibiting Palestinians from visiting the area, despite its integration into local worship and culture.

This move was followed closely by the establishment of a Jewish religious school in the tomb, with tents set up outside, and large wire fences erected around the area.

Samaritans, a community of Jews living on Mount Gerazim who hold Palestinian identity cards and who live and work in the city as part of Nabulsi society, also revere the site. The original tomb was angled towards the mountain where the community lives. It was recently re-positioned to face Jerusalem by settler groups.

The site was part of an Israeli military outpost adjacent to the village of Balata, now a suburb of Nablus.

In the late 1990s, Nablus was handed over to Palestinian Authority control, but the area around the tomb remains in Area C, under Israeli jurisdiction.

After handing security control over to the PA, Israel coordinates visits with officials. Most visitors are settlers.

Some settlers felt the military was not giving them enough free access to the tomb, as visits were mostly coordinated at night to minimize the impact on Nablus residents of the military closures which visits entail.

Settlers have repeatedly vandalized three schools nearby the tomb over the last couple of years, contaminating water tanks and leaving graffiti on buildings used as temporary military posts during visits.

In May, PA police apprehended some 30 settlers breaking into the site. They had not coordinated their visit with the local police or the military. Police said they shot warning fire into the air to scare off the group, who later reported the death of one settler by the shots.

Since then the Israeli military has organized a visit for some 1,600 Jewish worshipers, all of which took place at night.

The recent daytime visit by right-wing Israeli leaders is the first coordinated with the local police.
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