Palestinians vandalize West Bank shrine as tensions soar

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Palestinians set fire to a West Bank shrine revered by Jews as Israeli forces operated in the occupied territory following a series of recent Palestinian attacks in Israel, the Israeli military said Sunday.

The developments come as tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have escalated during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which this year coincides with major Jewish and Christian holidays. Protests and tensions over last year’s holiday have escalated into the 11-day war in Gaza.

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Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav told Israeli Army Radio that around 100 Palestinians marched to the site on Saturday night, rioted and set it on fire before being dispersed by Palestinian security forces. Images on social media showed parts of the tomb inside the shrine shattered and charred.

Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus is a hot prayer site. Some Jews believe the biblical Joseph is buried in the tomb, while Muslims say a sheikh is buried there. The army escorts Jewish worshipers to the site several times a year, in coordination with Palestinian security forces.

Storks fly over a section of the Israeli separation barrier between Israel’s Kibbutz Kramim and the West Bank village of Arab al Fureijat on Sunday, April 10, 2022.
(AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The incident was condemned by Israeli leaders. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he was shocked by the footage and said Israel would locate the perpetrators and repair the damage.

“The vandalism of Joseph’s Tomb is a serious event and a grave violation of freedom of worship at one of the most sacred places for all Jews,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz tweeted.

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Also on Sunday, the army said forces near a West Bank village opened fire on the lower body of a female suspect who did not stop as requested as she approached soldiers. The Palestinian Health Ministry said the suspect, a woman in her 40s, died from her injuries in a hospital.

The incidents come as Israeli forces continued to operate in and around Jenin, home to two of the attackers who have staged deadly attacks on Israelis in recent weeks.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during the Jerusalem Post annual conference on October 12, 2021 in Jerusalem, Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during the Jerusalem Post annual conference on October 12, 2021 in Jerusalem, Israel.
(Amir Levy/Getty Images)

Jenin Governor Akram Rajoub denounced ongoing Israeli activity in the area, saying it was an act of revenge being carried out against all residents of the area.

A raid on the hometown of one of the attackers on Saturday sparked a shootout in the occupied West Bank that left at least one Palestinian militant dead.

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Military spokesman Kochav said forces in the West Bank were making arrests, gathering intelligence and preparing the attackers’ homes for demolition.

“We will be in every place at all times to stop these terrorist attacks. Israel is on the offensive,” Bennett told a cabinet meeting.

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According to an army statement, a “violent riot” broke out as forces operated in the village of Yabad, which is home to one of the attackers. He said forces responded to the riot with live ammunition and “neutralized” a Palestinian who threw an explosive at them. We did not know what his condition was.

The forces arrested at least eight suspects and found Israeli military ammunition and uniforms in one of the suspects’ homes as well as illegal weapons, the army said.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on Sunday, April 10, 2022.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on Sunday, April 10, 2022.
(Ronen Zvulun/Pool Photo via AP)

Jenin is considered a stronghold of Palestinian militants. Israeli forces often come under fire when operating in the area. Even the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank and coordinates with Israel on security issues, appears to have little control.

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While Israel eased some restrictions on Palestinians during Ramadan, Israel tightened them on Jenin on Saturday, imposing a partial lockdown on all residents except laborers working in Israel.

Rajoub, the governor, called the measures “an expression of collective punishment” intended to disrupt the lives of Palestinians rather than thwart attacks.

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Four attacks by Palestinians in recent weeks have killed more than a dozen people in one of the deadliest outbursts of violence against Israelis in years.