The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemned Israeli President Isaac Herzog's visit to Hebron for a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony on Sunday, in a statement calling for its cancellation.
"The Israeli government bears full and direct responsibility for this event," the statement read. The ceremony is "a defiant move aimed at embracing the settlement enterprise and a blatant violation of international law and the international effort to curb unilateral measures," it continued.
The candle-lighting, held in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, is an endorsement of the occupation by all levels of Israeli leadership, which might reignite tensions, the statement said.
"Even today, with all the complexity, the Jewish people's historical connection to Hebron, the Cave of the Patriarchs ... is unquestionable," Herzog said at the ceremony.
"We will not agree on everything, but we will always remember that we are one people, that we all have common roots in this cave," Herzog added. "At the same time, we continue to dream of peace, among people of all religions and beliefs in this country, and must condemn all shades of hatred and violence."
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Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli police outside the ceremony after Palestinian factions in Hebron called for mass prayers at the site in protest.
Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas official, said in a statement on Friday that the candle-lighting represents “a provocation of the Palestinians’ feelings and a blatant desecration of the sanctity of the mosque,” referring to the site as it is known to Muslims, and calling on Palestinians “to ward off this provocative move."
"The Israeli occupation must bear full responsibility for the repercussions of this assault,” he said in the statement, as reported by AFP.
Several Israeli anti-occupation groups including Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Crime Minister, Mothers Against Violence and the Mechazkim NGO prepared to protest the ceremony, but several busses carrying activists were blocked on Sunday from reaching the area due to an IDF order restricting non-residents from reaching the city. Peace now said, "While the president is lighting a candle with Baruch Marzel and the Kahanists, security forces are preventing law-abiding citizens from exercising their right to protest."
Peace Now called Hebron “the ugliest face of Israeli control over the territories," and said "It is inconceivable that the president, who is supposed to be a unifying figure, would choose, of all places, to light a candle in a place that has become a stronghold of oppression and violence."
The Associated Foreign Press contributed to this report.