Israeli forces deploy around Hebron mosque for president's visit, assault Palestinian protesters
Israeli forces tightened their military measures in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron on Sunday in preparation for a visit by Israeli President Isaac Herzog to the Ibrahimi Mosque, which is also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs.
They also attacked Palestinian demonstrators protesting the visit, according to eyewitnesses.
The Israeli president will participate in the celebration of the Jewish Festival of Light and light the Hanukkah Menorah, Hafez Abu Snina, the director of the Ibrahimi Mosque, told The New Arab.
Hebron is home to more than 200,000 Palestinians. About 1,000 Israeli settlers, who engage in frequent attacks on Palestinians, also live there under heavy military protection.
Since 1967, Israeli occupation authorities have divided the Ibrahimi Mosque between Muslims and Jews. In 1994, an extremist Israeli settler killed 29 Palestinian worshippers there.
Abu Snina said that Israeli soldiers had heavily deployed in and around the mosque, adding that "Herzog will arrive this afternoon."
He said that Herzog's visit was part of comes as part of the Israeli attempts to control the Ibrahimi Mosque and change its identity.
"We are in communication with the UNESCO World Heritage Committee about what is happening in the area, especially after the committee considered the Ibrahimi Mosque a Palestinian heritage site four years ago," he explained.
"What is happening against our holy place is not surprising, but comes in the context of the repeated attacks and targeting of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Ibrahimi Mosque, to control them in accordance with the ambitions of Israeli settlement," he said.
Dozens of residents of the city holding Palestinian flags held a demonstration outside the mosque to protest Herzog's visit.
Local eyewitnesses said the Israeli forces assaulted the protesters, firing tear gas and, beating some of them with batons.
On Saturday, Palestinian officials described Herzog's visit as a provocation and a flagrant violation of the site's sanctity, saying that the Israeli forces will bear full responsibility for any repercussions.
In early 2019, Israel expelled the only international observers protecting Hebron's Palestinians from the roughly 1,000 settlers living there. They had been deployed there ever since the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre.