RAMALLAH Feb. 25 (JMCC & Agencies) - Palestinians and Israeli soldiers clashed in Hebron Thursday afternoon at the site of the Ibrahimi mosque where both Jews and Muslims pray.
Thursday was the sixteenth anniversary of the deaths of more than two dozen worshiping Palestinians, shot by an Israeli settler.
The US State Department on Wednesday sharply criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government for adding two shrines in the West Bank, including the Hebron shrine, to Israel's list of national heritage sites. The move, announced Sunday, sparked Palestinian protests and has drawn criticism from other quarters, including the United Nations.
Israel's government plans renovations on the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron, what Jews call the Tomb of the Patriarch, and the Bilal bin Rabah mosque in Bethlehem where Jews believe the biblical Rachel is buried.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the administration viewed the move as provocative and unhelpful to the goal of getting the two sides back to the table.
Toner said US displeasure had been conveyed to senior Israeli officials by American diplomats.
On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement denying the significance of the renovations plan.
Israel is committed to freedom of religion for worshippers of all faiths at all holy places, the statement said.
This policy also applies to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, where the State is constantly acting to ensure proper conditions for prayer, for both Jews and Muslims.
The Hebron site was divided into heavily-guarded Jewish and Muslim prayer areas after Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli settler, opened fire on Muslims praying in the Tomb of Abraham mosque in Hebron, killing 29 Palestinians and injuring 125.
Jews revere the site as the Cave of the Patriarchs, where the Bible says the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were buried along with three of their wives. Muslims call it the Ibrahimi mosque, reflecting that Abraham is considered the father of both Judaism and Islam.