More than 8,000 Israelis filled the streets of Hebron on Saturday to support the few hundred Jewish settlers living in the Palestinian city. Israeli troops beat counterdemonstrators, who demanded that the settlers leave.
A Palestinian woman who shouted at soldiers holding her husband was beaten by a female officer, dragged into a jeep and struck again. One Palestinian man was taken to the hospital after being beaten.
Police arrested 12 people, including four Israelis.
The gathering in Hebron was held to mark the death of the biblical matriarch Sarah. With a long-delayed Israeli troop withdrawal from the city imminent, the annual gathering drew thousands more than usual.
Hundreds of Israeli soldiers and police patrolled downtown Hebron. International observers wore bulletproof vests as they toured the city.
Israel barred Muslim worship over the Sabbath at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, believed to be the burial site of the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sarah.
The site, holy to both Muslims and Jews, is representative of the tensions that plague the residents of the city, where 350 settlers and 150 Jewish seminary students live among 94,000 Palestinians.
Tensions have heightened as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators appear close to a deal on the Hebron pullout, part of the interim agreements Israel and the Palestinians signed in 1995. The troop withdrawal was scheduled for last March, but Israel delayed it out of concern for the safety of Hebron’s Jewish settlers.
Hebron is the last major West Bank city under Israeli occupation.
Scuffles between Israeli troops and Israeli and Palestinian peace activists erupted when the activists neared the Avraham Avinu settler enclave in the city center, bearing signs that read “Two Peoples, Two States” and chanting “Settlers out” and “Hebron is ours.”
Soldiers beat demonstrators with their fists. Settlers, many carrying prayer books and machine guns, stopped to watch. Some chanted “No Palestine,” and “Hebron is Ours.”