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Mike Huckabee among 4,000 Israelis to visit Joseph's Tomb, sparking clashes

May 22, 2017 1:09 P.M. (Updated: May 22, 2017 5:40 P.M.)
NABLUS (Ma'an) -- Clashes erupted between local Palestinians and Israeli soldiers who escorted some 4,000 right-wing Israelis to Joseph’s Tomb east of Nablus in the northern occupied West Bank overnight Sunday, when at least two Palestinians were detained and several others suffered from tear gas inhalation.

Among the group of Israelis who arrived to the site under armed protection was Mike Huckabee, former US governor of the state of Arkansas, who ran against Donald Trump in the Republican presidential race.

Huckabee has since thrown his support behind Trump, who touched down in Israel's Ben Gurion international airport later on Monday ahead of meetings with the Israeli prime minister and president, and later with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Tuesday.

Local sources said that hundreds of extremist Israelis and settlers arrived in 18 buses under heavy military protection and performed Jewish rituals from around 2 a.m. until Monday’s early morning hours.

Fierce clashes broke out between dozens of young Palestinians and Israeli forces who escorted the group, with Israeli soldiers firing tear gas canisters and stun grenades at the protesters who pelted soldiers stones and empty bottles.

Palestinian medical sources said several Palestinians suffered from severe tear gas inhalation.

Palestinian security sources told Ma'an that Israeli forces also detained an unspecified number of young Palestinian men when they stormed Nablus city to escort the group to Joseph's Tomb.

In response to a request for comment, and Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that “security forces secured a pre-planned entrance of 4,000 worshippers. Several Palestinians began hurling firebombs at worshippers, and security forces apprehended the instigators. The two suspects were transferred to security forces for further questioning.”

Joseph's Tomb -- revered by Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Samaritans -- is the site of regular visits by Israelis, who are escorted by Israeli military forces to the area, often sparking clashes with local Palestinians.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Joseph's Tomb was to remain under Israeli control, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) took over the site after the Israeli army withdrew during the Second Intifada.

As part of security cooperation with the PA, the Israeli army allows Jewish worshipers to make monthly pilgrimages to the site.

Israeli news site Ynet quoted Mike Huckabee as saying that "It's an amazing experience to have to come to this type of difficulty just to be able to come to a holy site for Jews and frankly even for Christians, who pay tribute to Joseph."

"To have to do it in the dead of night, under armed guard, with the smell of tear gas in the air, burning tires along the route, it's a stark reminder (to how different) it is in the heart of Israel, where the Israeli government protects every Muslim that accesses their holy site," he added.

"In Judea and Samaria Jewish people do not have unhindered access to holy sites without having to go to extraordinary lengths in order to be able to access these places for prayer," Huckabee bemoaned, using the Israeli term for the occupied West Bank.

However, like many other Palestinian towns across the West Bank with religiously significant sites, Nablus commonly experiences incursions by Israeli settlers -- who reside in the occupied Palestinian territory in violation of international law -- accompanied by armed escorts, resulting in severe restrictions on freedom of movement for local Palestinians.

Settlers who visit the tombs to pray often actively disrupt Palestinian residents and damage property. Meanwhile, Palestinians are restricted from visiting holy sites in Israel without hard-to-obtain permits from Israeli authorities.
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