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Will Israel heritage sites spark next Palestinian intifada?

The declaration of two biblical tombs in the West Bank as Israel heritage sites last week sparked clashes. Though Monday was quiet, some fear a new Palestinian intifada in response.

By Josh MitnickCorrespondent / March 1, 2010

One of the Israel heritage sites recently put under the spotlight, Rachel's tomb, Could this cause a Palestinian intifada?

Menahem Kahana/AFP/Newscom/File


Tel Aviv

Amid spreading Palestinian protests against Israel's decision to declare shrines in two West Bank cities as Israel heritage sites, the Palestinian cabinet held a solidarity meeting Monday in the city of Hebron near one of the sites while some here worried about a new Palestinian intifada.

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Clashes on the Temple Mount plaza in Jerusalem's Old City Sunday capped a week of violence since the declaration of Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem as official Israel heritage locations.

Critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say the decision recalls controversial acts by Israel a decade ago near holy sites that helped spark waves of violence – most notably the violent demonstrations in 2000 after Ariel Sharon toured the Temple Mount, which deteriorated into the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

But will the dispute spark fresh conflict?

Experts say that the current controversy isn't incendiary enough to incite a widespread conflict and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority prefers to keep the violence under control.

Despite rhetoric on the Palestinian side about the need to protect the shrines against Israeli encroachment, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza aren't being whipped up into a religious fervor.

"People here don't believe that this is a religious issue. They realize that this a political issue,'' says Mohammed Dajani, a professor of political science at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu bows to the right

Mr. Netanyahu included the sites at the last minute under pressure from far right-wing and religious political parties in his coalition.

At the Palestinian cabinet meeting on Monday, Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh declared, "we will not allow Israel to steal our history. We will take measures to force Israel to retreat from its decision,'' according to the Maan News agency. There were no reports of clashes for the first time in a week.

On Sunday more than a dozen Palestinians were injured and four Israeli police were injured in clashes on the Temple Mount and in a nearby neighborhood in predominantly Arab east Jerusalem. A four-hour standoff between security forces and demonstrators who took refuge in the Al Aqsa mosque ended peacefully.