Hasidic Jews to be indicted for visiting Joseph's Tomb

Haaretz.com/December 13, 2003
By Jonathan Lis and Amos Harel

Indictments are expected to be handed against nine Bratslav Hasidic Jews who defied military orders and circumvented a military roadblock on Friday to enter Joseph's Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus, an incident which later developed into a shooting attack in which seven Jews were wounded.

A Palestinian gunman opened fire at the van carrying the Jews, members of the Bratslav Hasidic sect, as they left the holy site.

Islamic Jihad and the Fatah-linked Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades both claimed responsibility for the attack, which left an 18-year-old in critical condition and a 14-year-old in serious condition.

The Israel Defense Forces said Friday that the Bratslav Hasidic Jews had been warned dozens of times of the dangers of visiting the site.

The army bans Israelis from visiting areas under Palestinian control, and said Friday the attack was "expected" because it has received threats that Palestinians plan to attack worshippers at the tomb.

The Hasidic Jews defied military orders and circumvented a military roadblock to enter the site along with 10 other worshippers. Members of the Al-Aqsa Brigades from the Balata refugee camp in Nablus later set alight the vehicle in which the worshippers arrived at the tomb, Israel Radio said.

Police arrested nine Hasidic Jews on Friday and a Petah Tikva court on extended by two days the remand of eight of them. Police intend to indict the Hasidic Jews while they are in custody.

The police commander in the West Bank, Shahar Ayalon, told Israel Radio on Friday that two of the victims have been arrested recently for illegally entering Area A, which is under Palestinian security and civilian administration.

The Islamic Jihad sent a note to the Agence France Presse office in the Gaza Strip claiming responsibility for the attack and saying that it came in reaction to Israeli military activity in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip.

"The last thing the IDF needs is a group like this that enters without permission... that compels [the army] to change its order of operations and rescue them," he said.

He added: "Such a surprise entrance [to Joseph's Tomb] via lies and deceit regarding IDF roadblocks is simply something that cannot be done."

The wounded were evacuated by IDF troops to the nearest military roadblock, and two of them were airlifted to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva and the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. Other passengers in the vehicle were arrested by police for entering the Palestinian area without IDF authorization.

Security forces were carrying out a search in the area, and Palestinian residents of Nablus said the IDF had moved in to seal off the area of the shooting.

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