Palestinian Military Intelligence is investigating the killing of a Bratslav Hasid, Ben-Yosef Livnat, early Sunday morning by the Palestinian police in Nablus. The worshippers had reportedly sneaked into Joseph's Tomb.
The investigation is focusing on the Palestinian police's shooting at the Israeli vehicles that entered the city carrying Hasidim who planned to pray at Joseph's Tomb. Their arrival had not been coordinated with the Palestinian or Israeli security forces.
Nablus Governor Jibrin al-Bakri and the heads of the Palestinian security services in the city met with their Israeli counterparts on Sunday night in an effort to calm the situation. The Palestinian Authority also announced that it was setting up a committee to investigate the incident.
During the incident Sunday, Livnat, a Jerusalem resident, was killed and four other Israelis were wounded when a group of Hasidim tried to break through a Palestinian police checkpoint in Nablus. The worshippers entered the city, contrary to orders by the Israel Defense Forces, to pray at Joseph's Tomb.
According to the Nablus governor, settlers arrived at the scene and threw stones at the Palestinian police. He said the policemen fired in the air to disperse the Israelis and that one of the vehicles carrying Hasidim tried to break through a checkpoint, not heeding calls to stop after the officers had fired in the air.
Ziad Otman, a spokesman for the governor, told Haaretz that the worshippers entered the Tomb compound without prior arrangement. He said the Israelis arrived at the site at about 5 A.M. Sunday and that all other details of the incident were being investigated.
The Palestinian spokesman said the agreement with Israel lays responsibility for the upkeep and running of the site on the PA, and that the site is open to every believer - Jew, Christian or Muslim. "But access must be coordinated first," he said.
Otman stressed that the PA does not want an escalation. He said that many times before settlers have damaged property at the site belonging to a nearby school.
After the incident, Palestinian youths tried to start a fire at the Tomb, but Palestinian firefighters put it out immediately. Three Palestinians were also reported injured in villages near Nablus in what are believed to be retaliatory attacks.
Since the IDF pulled out of the Tomb compound in October 2000, groups of Bratslav Hasidim and settlers from around Nablus have regularly tried to enter the city to pray at the site, near the Balata refugee camp south of the city. These attempts continue despite the IDF's efforts to keep the worshippers out, because the site is in Area A, closed to Israeli citizens.
Two years ago, as security cooperation between the IDF and Palestinian Authority improved, an organized monthly prayer has been held at the site, prearranged with the Palestinians and under Israeli security protection. Nonetheless, the Hasidim and the settlers continue to try to sneak into the city to enter the site.
On Saturday night, Givati Brigade troops were deployed to the south of the city, having received intelligence that there would be an attempt by Israelis to sneak into Nablus. The IDF is still investigating whether the Hasidim managed to bypass the checkpoints or whether they entered the city after the troops were recalled at about 5 A.M.
"We were there all night," said a Givati officer. "But we don't have enough troops to block every entry all the time, and we left at 5 A.M. After all, we also need to fight terrorists."
According to the information the IDF has so far, three vehicles with about 15 Hasidim entered Nablus between 5 A.M. and 5:30 A.M., reaching the site. They were discovered almost immediately by the Palestinian police, who have a permanent position nearby. They called out to the Hasidim several minutes after the worshippers entered and began praying.
The Hasidim emerged and entered their vehicles, not heeding the calls of the Palestinian officers to stop. They began driving in an attempt to bypass the checkpoint. The police fired in the air, and when the Hasidim did not stop, the police fired at the vehicles.
The bullets hit two vehicles, killing Livnat and wounding four others, one seriously. The vehicles did not stop and made it to a nearby IDF headquarters south of the city, where the wounded were taken to the hospital by helicopter.
The IDF refused to describe the incident as an attack. A senior officer at Central Command said that "this was a problem in communication between the two sides. The Bratslav Hasidim broke through the checkpoint and the officers fired in the air first. They didn't have to continue shooting at them, but we can't say there was a premeditated attempt to harm them."
Meanwhile, hundreds yesterday attended Livnat's funeral on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar were present.
Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, Ben-Yosef Livnat's aunt, said "my nephew was killed by a terrorist disguised as a Palestinian policeman, just because he wanted to pray. He was a person who just wanted to do good."
According to the minister, "My nephew was named after Shlomo Ben-Yosef, who gave his life for the Land of Israel, and now my nephew has been murdered for the Land of Israel."
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