Building at Joseph’s Tomb site after Palestinian Authority took control in 2000 .
In the wake of an attempt by Palestinians to burn down Joseph’s Tomb – Judaism’s third holiest site – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction issued a statement denying it will help restore the shrine, referring to both the shrine and the biblical patriarch as “Muslim.”
“Pay no attention to the rumors that we will work with Israel to restore the burial site of the holy Muslim Joseph,” said the statement, issued from Nablus, the biblical city of Shechem. “We are going to guard this holy Muslim site.”
Joseph’s Tomb is the believed burial place of the son of Jacob who was sold by his brothers into slavery and later became viceroy of Egypt.
Palestinian security officials in Nablus said Monday they were called to the tomb to find 16 burning tires inside the sacred structure. A Palestinian police official who inspected the site told WND there was some fire damage to the tomb.
He said the Palestinian Authority, fearing embarrassment, immediately formed a joint committee from the PA’s Force 17, Preventative Security Services and Palestinian intelligence, to find out who was behind the fire.
The move comes after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced last week he would ask Israel’s Defense Ministry to work with the PA to reconstruct and restore the tomb, parts of which were destroyed in 2000 by Palestinians, including known PA security officers.
Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, which granted nearby strategic territory to the Palestinians, Joseph’s Tomb was supposed to be accessible to Jews and Christians. But following repeated attacks against Jewish worshippers at the holy site by gunmen associated with then-Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat’s militias, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak in October 2000 ordered an Israeli unilateral retreat from the area.
Within less than an hour of the Israeli retreat, Palestinian rioters overtook Joseph’s Tomb and reportedly began to ransack the site. Palestinian mobs reportedly tore apart books, destroying prayer stands and grinding out stone carvings in the Tomb’s interior. A Muslim flag was hoisted over the tomb.
Israel first gained control of Nablus and the neighboring site of Joseph’s Tomb in the 1967 Six-Day War. The Oslo Accords signed by Arafat and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called for the area surrounding the tomb site to be placed under Palestinian jurisdiction but allowed for continued Jewish visits to the site and the construction of an Israeli military outpost at the tomb to ensure secure Jewish access.
Following the transfer of control of Nablus and the general area encompassing the tomb to the Palestinians in the early 1990s, there were a series of outbreaks of violence in which Arab rioters and gunmen from Arafat’s Fatah militias shot at Jewish worshipers and the tomb’s military outpost.
Six Israeli soldiers were killed, and many others, including yeshiva students, were wounded in September 1996 when Palestinian rioters and Fatah gunmen attempted to over take the tomb. Eventually, Israeli soldiers regained control of the site.
Gravestone at traditional burial site for biblical patriarch Joseph after it was ransacked by Palestinian mobs
The Palestinians continued to attack Joseph’s Tomb with regular shootings and the lobbing of firebombs and Molotov cocktails. Security for Jews at the site increasingly became more difficult to maintain. Rumors circulated in 2000 that Barak would evacuate the Israeli military outpost and give the tomb to Arafat as a “peacemaking gesture.”
In early 2000, the Israeli army began denying Jewish visits to the tomb on certain days due to prospects of Arab violence. Following U.S.-mediated peace talks at Camp David in September 2000, Arafat returned to the West Bank and initiated his intifada. During one bloody week in October 2000, Fatah gunmen attacked the tomb repeatedly, killing two and injuring dozens, prompting Barak to order a complete evacuation of Judaism’s third holiest site Oct. 6.
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