JERUSALEM — Palestinians set fire to a Jewish holy shrine in the West Bank on Friday morning, and clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli military flared throughout the day after the militant Islamist group Hamas called for a “day of rage.”
The blaze at the Tomb of the Prophet Joseph, on the outskirts of the northern West Bank city of Nablus, was brought under control by Palestinian forces, who also dispersed hundreds of protesters. There were no reports of injuries, but the Israeli military said the structure was seriously damaged.
The incident underscored the runaway tensions across Israel and the West Bank amid a series of attacks and clashes that have claimed lives on both sides and brought the Israeli army into residential areas in Israel for the first time in more than a decade.
In an unusual move, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the attack as “irresponsible.” He said he would appoint a committee to investigate the incident, local media reported.
Israeli leaders have accused Abbas of failing to intervene in efforts to quell the latest unrest — which was triggered by confrontations at another holy site, Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The site is considered holy by Muslims, who refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and by Jews, who call it the Temple Mount.
Referring to Friday’s attack at Joseph’s Tomb, the Israeli Foreign Ministry director general said, “Israel condemns in the strongest terms the attack, perpetrated just because it is a place where Jews pray.”
Right-wing Israeli minister Uri Ariel said the attack “on one of the holiest sites to the Jewish nation” could not be forgiven and called for Israel to retake control of the area, which is under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction.
The tomb, which has been the site of clashes in the past, is frequently visited by Jewish pilgrims escorted by the Israeli military. The site is patrolled by Palestinian security services, but some Israelis are now calling for Israeli soldiers to be present, too.
In Washington, President Obama said the United States condemned “in the strongest possible terms violence directed against innocent people,” and he urged leaders in the region “to tamp down rhetoric that may feed violence or anger or misunderstanding.”
Israeli media reported Friday night that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to meet with Secretary of State John F. Kerry on Wednesday in Berlin during an official Israeli visit to Germany. Kerry said this week that he would be returning to the region in an attempt to help bring calm.
The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Friday to discuss the increasingly tense situation.
Meanwhile, in Hamas-ruled Gaza, two Palestinians were reported killed in clashes with Israeli security forces along the border fence, and 211 people were wounded by live rounds and tear gas, Health Ministry officials said. Another Palestinian was killed in Nablus, Palestinians said.
In Hebron, Israeli soldiers fatally shot a Palestinian man after he stabbed and lightly wounded an Israeli soldier. The army said in a statement that the attacker had been posing as a journalist. The Palestinian journalists’ syndicate later said the man was not a journalist and did not work for any media outlet.
In Jerusalem, Israeli security forces braced for more violence in the eastern part of the city, where many of the Palestinian attackers lived, and Israeli forces were tightly controlling movement. At the entrance to the village of Issawiya, cement blocks prevented cars from going in or out, although it was open for pedestrians, who were subject to strict personal checks.
“Of course this is a problem. You can’t get your car in and out of the village, the shops are running out of perishable items, like milk or yogurt, and they won’t give us times when the road will be open or closed,” said Majdi Fahmi, a 52-year-old construction worker.
Hazem Balousha in Gaza contributed to this report.