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Palestinian police remove Jewish pilgrims from Joseph’s Tomb

Six Hasidim make unauthorized visit to volatile shrine in the West Bank city of Nablus

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Ultra Orthodox Jews seen praying in the compound of Joseph's Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus, November 16, 2009. (Yaakov naumi / Flash90)
Ultra Orthodox Jews seen praying in the compound of Joseph's Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus, November 16, 2009. (Yaakov naumi / Flash90)

Palestinian police removed a group of Israeli citizens who entered the Joseph’s Tomb holy site in the West Bank city of Nablus early Sunday morning, handing them over to Israeli forces, the army said.

Around dawn, six ultra-Orthodox men traveled to the pilgrimage site in the Palestinian city without coordinating their visit with security forces ahead of time.

On previous occasions, Israeli citizens entering Palestinian cities without escort have come under attack by local residents, normally with rocks being thrown at their vehicles. However, there have been more serious incidents, including the deadly lynching of two Israeli reservists who accidentally entered Ramallah in 2000.

Four of the Hasidim were picked up by Palestinian security officers and handed over to the Israel Police, a military spokesperson said.

The other two men left the area by themselves, she said.

The four arrested men, all residents of Jerusalem, were questioned for “endangering their lives and the lives of IDF soldiers,” a police spokesperson said.

They were scheduled to be brought before a Petah Tikva court on Sunday in order to release them from custody, though with some “restrictive conditions,” the police said, in a statement.

Nablus, which is located within the Palestinian Authority-controlled territory of the West Bank known as Area A, is off-limits to Israeli civilians.

In order to visit the shrine, Jewish worshipers must be escorted by the Israel Defense Forces in organized trips conducted each month. During these regular visits, Palestinians routinely throw rocks at the troops, though there have been incidents where shots were fired at the troops.

Meanwhile in Bethlehem overnight Saturday, the IDF and police escorted tens of thousands of worshipers to the Rachel’s Tomb holy site. At the same time, some 200 religious Jews were guarded by the IDF, Border Police and Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration as they visited the Alonei Mamre site in Hebron. The visits to both sites occurred without incident, the army said.

Last Tuesday troops also escorted some 800 worshipers to Joseph’s Tomb — a monthly occurrence. As with nearly every visit, local residents threw rocks at the soldiers guarding the religious Jews before the troops repelled the rioters with non-lethal means. There were no reports of serious injuries or damage on either side.

In September an IDF soldier was shot and moderately wounded while guarding a group of Jews visiting the tomb. The shots were fired at the entrance to the Balata refugee camp, which is located a few blocks away from the tomb, on the outskirts of Nablus.

The incident came after a week earlier, dozens of members of the Bratslav Hasidic sect were detained by police after they visited the holy site without army escort. Residents threw stones at the group, lightly injuring two.

In October 2015 the site was torched by Palestinian rioters in an incident condemned by Israeli leaders and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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