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IDF nabs Hamas suspects as Israeli hardliners slated to visit Hebron

Tens of thousands of Jewish visitors and worshipers, lawmakers and senior rabbis expected in flashpoint West Bank city for holiday event

Israeli border police detain a Palestinian man near Hebron on 24 April 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Israeli border police detain a Palestinian man near Hebron on 24 April 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Israeli forces arrested four Hamas suspects in Hebron Monday morning, hours before thousands of Israelis, including a number of far-right ministers, were slated to visit the flashpoint West Bank city for a ceremony.

The raids took place in Hebron’s Abu Sneineh neighborhood and in the nearby village of Dhahriyah, the IDF said. The suspects were handed over to security officials for questioning.

The IDF said it conducted the West Bank sweep in anticipation of the thousands of Jewish worshipers and visitors to Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs — a site revered by Jews and Muslims as the burial place of Abraham — during the week-long Jewish festival.

On Monday, the Jewish community of Hebron will host a celebration at the tomb to mark the upcoming 50th year since Israel captured the city in the 1967 Six Day War.

Some 700 Jews live in a number of enclaves among over 100,000 Palestinians in the divided West Bank city, which was a focal point of Israeli-Palestinian violence during months of unrest earlier in the year.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs is a central feature of the controversial school trips to Hebron. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash 90)
The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

Attending the event Monday will be Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home), Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan (Jewish Home) and Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation Ayoub Kara (Likud), according to a community spokesperson.

MKs Oren Hazan (Likud), Shuli Mualem-Rafaeli (Jewish Home), Nurit Koren (Likud), Miki Zohar (Likud), Nava Boker (Likud), Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), Avraham Neguise (Likud) and Nissan Slomiansky (Jewish Home) have also said they will attend, along with musicians and thousands of revelers.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau will also attend the event, according to organizers.

The city is often opened up to increased Israeli visits over the Passover and Sukkot holidays, with the army bolstering security in anticipation, but Monday’s event is expected to be larger than normal and comes amid fears that fresh violence could erupt at any moment.

IDF soldiers stand guard near the site where a Palestinian attempted to stab a soldier before being shot dead in the West Bank city of Hebron on October 28, 2015. (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)
IDF soldiers stand guard near the site where a Palestinian attempted to stab a soldier before being shot dead in the West Bank city of Hebron on October 28, 2015. (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)

From October to the end of March, 29 Israelis and four others were killed in a spate of Palestinian attacks many of them in Hebron. Some 190 Palestinians were also killed, some two-thirds of them while carrying out assaults and the rest during clashes with Israeli forces, according to Israeli officials.

The last incident in Hebron came on March 24, when two Palestinian assailants attacked an Israeli soldier guarding a Jewish enclave in the city. One attacker was killed immediately, and a second was shot and killed by Sgt. Elor Azaria as he lay wounded on the ground.

The incident drew domestic and international condemnation and the soldier has since been charged with manslaughter, though some, including some of the politicians expected in Hebron Monday, have spoken out in defense of the soldier.

Police have also boosted security in Jerusalem’s Old City and on the Temple Mount in an attempt to prevent disturbances at the flashpoint sites during Passover.

Organizers in the settlements have advertised a number of activities, concerts and other events to draw Israelis and tourists to the West Bank over the holiday, when children are off school and Israeli families typically take day trips.

Palestinians have complained that such events disturb their daily lives over the holiday, with restrictions placed over their movement.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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