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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jewish March in Hebron Spurs Scuffles With Police

HEBRON, West Bank -- Thousands of Israelis, many carrying prayer books and automatic rifles, Saturday converged on Hebron to back the tiny Jewish enclave in the city. Israeli troops beat and scuffled with counter demonstrators who chanted "settlers out.''

About 8,000 Jewish supporters arrived in the city Friday for the Jewish Sabbath to mark the occasion of the death of the biblical matriarch Sarah. The annual gathering usually draws far less visitors, who also came this year to show support for the Jewish presence in Hebron.

In the scuffles, at least 12 people, including the Palestinian governor of the Hebron district, were arrested by Israeli security forces. One Palestinian man was carried away on a stretcher after being beaten by Israeli troops.

Some settlers watching the clash chanted "No Palestine'' and "Hebron is ours.''

The flare-up illustrated the explosive mix of Hebron, a city where 350 Jewish settlers and 150 Jewish seminary students live in five enclaves amid 94,000 Palestinians.

Israeli security officials, concerned that Jewish extremists might resort to violence to scuttle the planned Israeli troop pullback, have drawn up contingency plans to round up radicals ahead of the redeployment.

The Hebron settlers are among the most militant in the West Bank, and include followers of the anti-Arab Kach movement. In 1994, a Kach follower shot and killed 29 Moslem worshipers at Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs, the site where the biblical figures Abraham, Jacob, Isaac and Sarah are believed buried.

A report compiled by security officials warned that Jewish extremists might try to provoke armed clashes with Palestinian police after Israel's redeployment and to plot attacks on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, Israel television reported Friday.

Security officials recommended beefing up the guard detail around the prime minister during the redeployment, and carrying out the movement of troops quickly, even overnight.

International observers from Norway, who have been in the city since April, wore bullet-proof vests Saturday. Until now, the observers were not protected, and had said they did not feel they were in danger.

On Saturday, more than 3,000 Israelis -- the men wearing skullcaps and the women long dresses and hats in a show of religious observance -- headed toward the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

The occasion was ostensibly a religious one, since Old Testament sections referring to the death of Sarah and Abraham's purchase of land in Hebron were being read in synagogues Saturday.

However, many said they came to the city to show their support for the Hebron settlers. Many oppose the planned troop pullout, that is stipulated in the Israeli-Palestinian autonomy agreements.

Palestinians watched in dismay. "They came here to prove that Hebron belongs to them, but Hebron belongs to us,'' said Nidal Ghais, who has a university degree in science but is unemployed.

"They are provoking us. But, God willing, we will be victorious, and Hebron will be Islamic,'' he said.