Confrontations broke out on Tuesday night at the entrance to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus after Israeli soldiers discovered a pipe bomb planted near the tomb – just before 1,200 Jewish worshippers were scheduled to arrive to pray at the holy site.
Four Palestinians were injured and in moderate condition from live Israeli army fire and were evacuated to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus, said the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported that dozens of others were injured by rubber-tipped bullets and tear gas.
Israeli soldiers were guarding the site in preparation for the nighttime prayers when they discovered the bomb, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said. The bomb was exploded by sappers.
The Israeli military said Palestinians rioted, burned tires and threw rocks at the soldiers, who responded using riot dispersal equipment until the confrontations escalated leading to the four injuries.
A Fatah member in Nablus said the clashes were expected due to plans that had been announced in advance that settlers and other Jewish worshippers would be visiting the tomb.
He said the incident involved hundreds of young people who clashed with Israeli army forces, and the Israeli troops responded with live fire and rubber-tipped bullets, causing a considerable number of injuries. "Every visit to the site by settlers constitutes a provocation that leads to clashes, but this time the violence was a lot more serious, and is expected to intensify in the near future."
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But a Palestinian security official told Haaretz that, despite the anger and frustration in the Palestinian society, there is still no sense of impending escalation. "The Palestinian leadership has taken the decision to suspend [its] agreements with Israel, but in practice, it’s still not clear where this is leading. What is certain is that any friction in Area A (assigned under the Oslo accords to Palestinian security control) can be a recipe for serious clashes."
Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced on Tuesday that he has appointed a special committee on the implementation of the decision to freeze all agreements with Israel, a step that was taken amid Palestinian allegations that Israel was systematically violating its accords with the Palestinian Authority.
Shtayyeh also slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump, claiming that they are incapable of being partners to a peace agreement based on a two-state solution to end the conflict with Israel.
With Israeli election slated for September 17, there is disagreement, Shtayyeh argues, between those in Israel who support the continuation of the occupation and those advocating peace. He also questioned whether there is a chance for peace as long as Trump remains in office.
This is not the first time Joseph's Tomb is at the center of violent clashes.
The holy site is technically under the control of the Palestinian Authority, and Jewish worshipers require the PA's approval to enter the compound. Once inside, they are normally accompanied by Israeli soldiers as a security measure, and clashes with local Palestinians often break out.
In March, two Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops after hurling explosive devices toward soldiers who were safeguarding the tomb.
According to the Israeli army, the two men threw the devices out of a vehicle they drove. In response, soldiers opened fire and hit the Palestinans' car. There were no Israeli casualties in the incident.
Palestinian reports said the exchange came in the wake of clashes that were ignited when Jewish worshipers entered the holy site to pray. The reports said the confrontations then spilled over into the city's eastern neighborhoods.
In the past, unauthorized Jewish visitors were arrested by Palestinian police and extricated by Israeli soldiers. In 2015, Palestinians set fire to the holy site.
In 2011, Palestinian security forces opened fire on three cars full of Israelis who entered the compound illegally, killing 25-year-old Ben-Joseph Livnat.