Over 1,600 Israelis enter Nablus overnight 30May11 May 31, 2011

Ma’an News Agency -  30 May 2011

Israeli soldiers escorted 1,600 Jewish settlers into the northern West Bank city of Nablus overnight Sunday to visit a shrine in the area, known to many Jews as Joseph’s Tomb.

While accompaniment by Israeli forces remains mandatory according to laws governing settlers, an additional 200 Jewish worshipers entered Palestinian neighborhoods without coordinating with Israeli authorities, an Israeli military spokesman said.

During the visit, around 50 settlers barricaded themselves inside the West Bank city, and an army spokesman said confrontations erupted between the settlers and Israeli soldiers trying to evacuate them.

On Sunday, an Israeli military investigation into fire that caused the death of a settler – who was found by Palestinian Authority police to be sneaking into the tomb along with 30 others – was labeled “unwarranted,” Israeli military chief of staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said in a statement.

Under the Oslo accords, Nablus is in Area A and is part of the 17 percent of the West Bank under Palestinian civil and security control.

Israeli soldiers generally coordinate the visit, requesting that PA police evacuate the area. Palestinian security sources told Ma’an, however, that the Sunday night visit was not coordinated with the PA.

Witnesses said Ultra-Orthodox settlers were among the visitors. Locals said the Huwwara checkpoint, south of Nablus, was closed at midnight and Palestinian drivers were not allowed to use the main road from the city.

Israeli forces set up several flying checkpoints in the area, locals and an Israeli military spokesman said.

The army spokesman said Palestinians had filed complaints over property damage caused by Israeli settlers during the visit. He said all complaints would be “thoroughly examined by the relevant authorities.”

Nablus residents said around 50 military vehicles escorted the Israelis, who arrived at around 1 a.m. and left at 5 a.m.

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