Israel 'stole Palestinian heritage'

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Furious Palestinians have clashed with Israeli soldiers and accused Israel of "cultural genocide" after the country's government claimed a sacred tomb in the occupied West Bank as a national heritage site.

The burial site of the biblical patriarch Abraham, which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims, is located in Hebron, which was yesterday shut down by a general strike in protest at the move as Israeli troops clashed with local youths. One soldier was reported lightly wounded as Palestinians threw stones and bottles and troops fired tear gas and stun grenades. Israel has also placed the believed tomb of the biblical matriarch Rachel, in occupied territory in Bethlehem, on the heritage list.

Palestinian MP Hanan Ashrawi, a secular nationalist and former spokeswoman for peace negotiators, said that Israel's move "completes a whole programme of theft".

"It's stealing the land, stealing our resources and now our cultural and historical heritage," she said. "It points to a mentality of cultural genocide. It's been a mosque and been sacred to Palestinian Muslims for centuries. They have to respect that."

Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib termed the Israeli move "very dangerous", saying it would reinforce the religious dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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