Netanyahu: 'Heritage' List Won't Change West Bank Status Quo

PM says outrage over addition of West Bank shrines to list of heritage sites stems from a 'misunderstanding.'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that his intentions in adding the two West Bank sites to the list of National Heritage sites were "misunderstood."

"There has been a misunderstanding, as we do not intend to alter the status quo, and we will maintain the freedom of worship for both the Jews and the Muslims at the sites," Netanyahu said.

"Just as we cooperated with the waqf and renovated the Muslim parts of the sites, we now want to renovate the Jewish sections as well," he added.

More than 300 Palestinians in Hebron clashed with Israeli security forces on Thursday, while commemorating the 29 Muslims killed in an attack by Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein at the Ibrahimi Mosque 16-years ago.

Hadash chairman Mohammed Barakeh who joined the Palestinian protestors alongside some 30 more Israelis, criticized Israel Defense Forces soldiers for attacking the peaceful demonstrators, as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his recent move to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs to the list of National Heritage sites.

"Netanyahu is an expert at lighting fires, and is turning the wheel backwards by repeating his mistakes from his first term as Prime Minister," Barakeh said following the demonstration.

"The Netanyahu-Barak government is pushing towards a regional explosion in order to damage any chance of progress," he added.

IDF soldiers attempted to disband the protest by hurling smoke grenades. Barakeh said that they all suffered from smoke inhalation.

During the memorial the controversial site - the Tomb of the Patriarchs - will be open to Muslim worshippers alone.

Meanwhile, Hebron settlers commemorated the day by holding group prayers.

The IDF has beefed up its presence in the West Bank city following three days of riots protesting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent move to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in Hebron, to the list of national heritage sites.

Following an outburst of violence in Hebron, where the tomb is located, Khaled Esseleh, the mayor of Hebron, said: "I'm hoping there won't be more clashes but this is a very sensitive religious issue, and Netanyahu just lit the fire."

Earlier, the Obama administration criticized Israel for designating two shrines in the West Bank as Israeli national heritage sites.

The criticism came as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she hopes long-stalled peace talks between Israelis and the Palestinians will resume.

Clinton told a congressional committee that groundwork is being laid to restart the talks with the help of U.S. envoy George Mitchell. She did not say exactly when the negotiations might resume, but her remarks come amid a flurry of U.S. diplomatic activity in the region.