JERUSALEM — Palestinian protesters set fire to a Jewish holy shrine on the outskirts of the West Bank Palestinian city of Nablus early Friday as the militant group Hamas called for yet another day of rage against Israel, already shaken to its core by two weeks of violence.
The fire at the tomb of the Prophet Joseph was brought under control by Palestinian forces, who also dispersed hundreds of protesters. There were no reports of injuries, but the Israeli military, which quickly arrived on the scene, said the structure was seriously damaged.
The tomb is the site of frequent visits by religious Jews, who are escorted by Israeli military forces to the area, which often lead to clashes with local Palestinians.
Christians, Samaritans and Muslims also venerate the site as the tomb of the patriarch Joseph. Joseph, or Yusef, is also a prominent figure in the Koran.
Israelis leaders immediately condemned the arson attack, comparing it to actions by extremist Islamic groups that have reportedly destroyed ancient holy sites across the Middle East.
And in an unusual move, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also condemned the arson attack against the site, calling it “irresponsible.” He said he would appoint a committee to investigate the incident, local media reported
“Israel condemns in the strongest terms the attack, perpetrated just because it is a place where Jews pray,” said Israel’s foreign ministry director general, Dore Gold.
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 currently under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction in the West Bank.
Israeli security forces braced for more violence after the militant Palestinian group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, called for Palestinians to hold yet another day of rage and march to Israeli military checkpoints following Friday noon prayers.
On Tuesday, when Hamas previously called for a day of rage, three Israelis were killed in four separate attacks across the country. Since then, Israel has approved steps it believes will stem the violence, including putting checkpoints outside Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and sending hundreds of troops into Israeli cities.
In East Jerusalem, where many of the Palestinian attackers lived, Israeli forces were tightly controlling the flow of traffic Friday morning. At the entrance to the village of Isawiyeh, cement blocks prevented cars from going in or out, although it was open for pedestrians, who were being subjected 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.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting Friday to discuss the increasingly tense situation in Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday accused Abbas of “lies and incitement” after the Palestinian leader charged that Israeli police had “executed in cold blood” a Palestinian youth.
The teen had not been killed and is being cared for in an area hospital after stabbing two Israelis.
In a speech in Ramallah on Wednesday night, Abbas accused Israel of barbarism and pointed to the killing of children by Israeli forces in the latest spasm of violence, including 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra, whom he called a martyr for the Palestinian cause.
On Thursday, Israeli authorities released photographs and video of Manasra. In one series, the boy is shown sitting upright in a hospital bed, plates of food by his side. A hospital administrator said the patient was receiving good treatment, adding, “From a medical point of view, we will probably be able to discharge him in a few days.”
Other photographs provided by Israel from security cameras show two teens whom Israeli police identify as Manasra and his 15-year-old cousin, Hassan Manasra, running with knives in their hands after they attacked two Israelis in Jerusalem on Monday.
One of their alleged victims was a 13-year-old Israeli, whom police said was stabbed by the cousins as he left a candy store and got on his bicycle. He remains unconscious and in serious condition. The other victim is a 25-year-old Israeli in stable condition.
The families of the Palestinian teens have denied that their sons carried out the attacks.
Earlier video of Manasra has also gone viral, fueling the dueling charges of brutality hurled by Israelis and Palestinians at each other in the wake of nearly two dozen Palestinian attacks over the past two weeks and near-daily violent demonstrations, which have been met with tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire by Israeli troops.
Police say that after the cousins stabbed the two Israelis, they ran toward Jerusalem’s tramway. The elder cousin was shot dead at the scene by police. Manasra was struck by a car.
In the video, Ahmed Manasra is shown lying on the pavement in a pool of his blood, his legs splayed behind him. He is conscious, struggling with pain, and appears terrified as Israeli onlookers can be heard taunting him, shouting “Die! Die!” and telling police to kill him with a shot to the head.
One man is heard calling the teen “a son of a prostitute.” Police keep onlookers away but offer no medical assistance as they wait for an ambulance.
Netanyahu seized on the Abbas speech and its erroneous claim that Manasra was dead as evidence that the Palestinian leadership is inciting violence and using shaky, graphic cellphone videos to stir anger and encourage more attacks.
Palestinian leader Saeb Erekat said Netanyahu’s attack on Abbas “is a failed attempt to distract from the fact that Palestinian civilians, including children, are being systematically targeted for extrajudicial executions by Israel.” He said the video of Manasra bleeding on the street “clearly shows Israel’s disregard to human life.”
Asked about State Department assertions that Israel is using excessive force, Netanyahu said, “There is no truth to the claim that we use excessive force. What would you have done if people in New York, Paris or London had done so? Look at the number of the casualties.”
Saleh Manasra, 39, Ahmed’s father, said he saw the video of his son. “Even if he was a dog or a cat in the street, he should not have been treated that way,” he said. He said he has not been allowed to visit him in the hospital.
“They were shouting for him to die,” the father said. “He is only 13 years old, and even if he did something like what they said he did, they could have arrested him; he posed no threat for them.”
The father said his son was run over by an Israeli vehicle deliberately.
The family of Hassan Manasra is waiting for authorities to release his body so he can be buried. His father spoke at the family’s home in the Palestinian village of Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem.
The father said his son was innocent. “The settlers attacked them and called them terrorists,” he said. He heard that Israeli authorities had released photographs of the teens with knives in their hands but said he had not looked at them.
Netanyahu said that “the only way we can fight this lie . . . is to tell the truth” and told people to look at the photographs.
Sufian Taha contributed to this report.