Hamas has warned of the “repercussions” over Israeli president Isaac Herzog’s plan to visit the Ibrahimi Mosque in the southern occupied West Bank city of al-Khalil during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah on Sunday.
The sensitive site is holy to Muslims. After Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 it divided al-Khalil into separate Muslim and Jewish cities.
Al-Khalil, which Jews call Hebron, is the biggest city in the West Bank, home to more than 200,000 Palestinians. About 1,000 Zionist settlers, who engage in frequent attacks on Palestinians, also live there under heavy military protection.
Herzog’s office announced on Friday that he would take part in a candle-lighting ceremony on Sunday at the mosque.
“The Israeli occupation must bear full responsibility to the repercussions of this assault,” Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas official, said in a statement.
The candle-lighting “is a provocation of the Palestinians’ feelings and a blatant desecration of the sanctity of the mosque,” Radwan added, calling on the Palestinians “to ward off this provocative move.”
“We call on the masses of our people in the West Bank and our people in the city of al-Khalil to confront this provocative step and to confront the attack on the Ibrahimi Mosque,” he noted.
Al-Khali has seen regular unrest, and the shrine believed to be the burial site of prophets including Abraham, is frequently the focal point of tensions.
In 1994, Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers inside the mosque with an assault rifle before being beaten to death by survivors.
The announcement by Herzog’s office also drew the ire of several Israeli groups, such as Peace Now, Breaking the Silence, Crime Minister, Mothers Against Violence and others.
They said the visit “legitimizes the apartheid regime and non-stop violence by settlers under which the Palestinian residents of the city live.”
Herzog, they said, was giving a tailwind to “Jewish terror supporters and to the great injustice taking place there on a daily basis,” accusing him of prostrating himself before the extremist right to curry its favor.
Peace Now said it was “inconceivable that the president, who should be a unifying figure, is choosing of all places to light a candle at the site that has become the bastion of Kahanism and a symbol of oppression and violence.”
Hamas also urged Palestinians to stand up against plans to hold a ceremony at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of al-Quds, stating that the site belongs to Islam.
A media advisor to Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh called on the world countries, especially the Arabs, to mobilize against attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause against the Israeli occupation.