JERUSALEM, Israel - The Obama administration expressed its extreme displeasure with Israel's inclusion of the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb in Jewish Heritage Sites, which are slated for renovation and preservation.
U.S. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said he conveyed the message to senior Israeli officials vis-à-vis American diplomats.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called it a "dangerous provocation" that could lead to "religious war," while Arabs rioted in Hevron.
The United Nations also criticized the decision.
Israelis, both religious and secular, were generally pleased with the government's decision.
Most Jews feel a deep connection with the Cave of the Patriarchs (called the Machpela in Hebrew), where Abraham, Issac and Jacob and their wives are buried, according to the Bible.
Rachel's Tomb, the traditional burial place of Jacob's second wife, is also deeply tied with the biblical history of the Jewish people.
Part of the problem stems from the sites being located in parts of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) now under Palestinian Authority control.
Joseph's Tomb in Nablus (biblical Shechem) and Tel Shiloh are other Jewish biblical sites in PA-controlled areas.
In October 2000, a month after then PA chairman Yasser Arafat launched the second intifada (armed Palestinian uprising), local Arabs pillaged Joseph's Tomb.
Israelis have worked to rebuild the tomb, where Jews are bused in from time to time to hold prayer services.
On Wednesday, Israeli President Shimon Peres addressed the issue in a meeting with Robert Serry, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East process.
"We don't need to produce artificial conflicts," Peres said.
"Israel will continue to grant freedom of worship to every religion in every holy place," he said, before opening the meeting with the following statement.
"Israel plans to invest significant amounts in infrastructure that will increase the accessibility of holy sites to all worshipers. By doing so it aims to honor and allow freedom of worship to all, irrespective of their faith, and protect the holy sites. There is no violation of Muslim or Christian religious rights in any holy place," he said.
The president asked Serry to convey "this clear message" to the U.N. secretary-general to help quench those individuals who would like to "incite unnecessary conflict."
Aharonovich on Hevron: We're Not Frightened by Threats (IsraelNN.com) Interior Minister Yitzchak Aharonovich responded Thursday to the decision to include the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Cave of Machpelah) in a list of national heritage sites. Aharonovich dismissed threats from terrorist groups following the decision, saying “We aren't afraid of anything.” "Whoever is threatening us – they can keep threatening. I can tell you as a government minister, we have enough strength that those who are threatening us can do nothing but threaten.” The minister added that he supported Netanyahu's decision regarding the Tomb, “and I still support it.” Aharonovich's statements were made in his first-ever press conference with Arab journalists, both foreign and Israeli. A source close to the minister explained that the conference was held in order to fight a trend of disinformation in the Arab media. “There is a vacuum in the Arab media that is filled by political interest groups that consistently give inaccurate information in order to serve their own interests,” he said. Aharonovich, who oversees the Israel Police, also spoke of his efforts to recruit more Arab police officers. The police force and Prison Services currently employ thousands of non-Jewish officers, but most hail from the Druze sector and not the much larger Arab Muslim sector. In order to bring Arab officers into the force, the government has funded a preparatory program to help more Arabs pass the test to join police training, he said. The program is already running, and currently has 40 students. Aharonovich said he is also working with Arab community leaders to help increase the number of Arab policemen. On Wednesday, the Knesset discussed data gathered in 2009 which revealed that crime had risen by 8.4 percent the Arab sector, while falling in the rest of the country, and that 60% of all murders took place in the Arab sector even though the Arabs are only 22% of the population. Knesset members called on police to do more to fight crime in Arab communities. Mossad t-shirt sales soar following Dubai assassination Syria and Iran: A New Middle East without Zionists
DAMASCUS - Syrian President Bashar Assad welcomed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Damascus on Wednesday.
At a joint press conference, Ahmadinejad spoke of a new Middle East void of Zionists.
"If the Zionist regime wants to repeat its past mistakes, this will bring about its demise and annihilation," he said.
"No one can damage" the close bond between Iran and Syria, Ahmadinejad told reporters. "These ties will become deeper and develop over the years."
"We are brothers. We have mutual interests, as well as common goals and enemies," Ahmadinejad said.
"The Zionists and their protectors have reached a dead end. The Zionist entity will eventually disappear," he said in what has become his mantra on the demise of the Jewish state.
"Its existential philosophy has ended. The Zionist conquerors have reached a dead end. All of their threats against the Palestinians stem from their weakness. If the Zionists repeat their past mistakes, all of the region's nations will uproot them," he said.
"With Allah's help, the new Middle East will be a Middle East without Zionists and imperialists. We hope they will recognize the rights of the region's nations, but they must realize that if they continue along their wrongful path, they have no place in our region," Ahmadinejad said.
"Today, the ties between the region's nations - between Iran, Syria and the resistance movement - are very strong. We believe that developments in the world will benefit Iran, Syria and the region's free governments," he said.
Ahmadinejad advised the U.S. to "pack their things and leave" the region.
" want to dominate the region, but they feel that Iran and Syria are preventing that," he said. "We tell them that instead of interfering in the region's affairs to pack their things and leave," he said.
Assad, for his part, claimed Israel is preparing for war.
"We believe we are facing an entity that is capable of aggression at any point, and we are preparing ourselves for any Israeli aggression, be it small or large scale," the Syrian president said.
"We must be prepared for any Israeli response, under any pretext," he said.
"Israel is directing its threats at Syria and the resistance movements. The threats are also aimed at boosting the Israeli citizens' morale after a series of defeats," Assad said.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told congressmen that the Obama administration's decision to reinstate an ambassador to Syria was not without concerns for Syria's close relationship with Iran and its support of terror groups.The widespread belief that Israel was behind the January 20 assassination of a top Hamas operative in Dubai has led to a huge increase worldwide in the sales of t-shirts carrying the name of Israel's Mossad spy agency. Israel has refused to comment on the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, but many in the West are convinced the Mossad was behind the hit, including the international media and many Western leaders. Jewish Diaspora communities have played off this by launching campaign urging supporters of Israel to show their pride in the Jewish state and support its right to take down its enemies. Israeli manufacturers and retailers told Ynet that those campaigns have resulted in massive demand for Mossad shirts and paraphernalia. While it remains questionable whether or not Israel was involved, Jerusalem has had a tough time staving off criticism due to the assassins' use of stolen Israeli identities. Dubai police on Wednesday revealed the names of six more suspects in addition to the original 11. Three of the new suspects used forged Australian passports with the identities of Australian-Israeli immigrants. Many Israeli commentators have noted that it was highly unlikely the Mossad would use the identities of average Israelis as cover for its agents