Israel announces plan to annex shrine

 Israel is planning to annex Rachel's Tomb, a shrine on the edge of Bethlehem revered by both Muslims and Jews on the edge of Bethlehem, several reports sent to ICN by the Amos Trust revealed last night. The tomb is said to contain the remains of Rachel, wife of the biblical patriarch Jacob and mother of Joseph. Analysts fear the shrine could become a new flashpoint as tensions increase in the region. Under a plan approved last Wednesday by the Israeli security cabinet, the holy site will be turned into a closed compound and included within the security perimeter being erected between Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. A new road will run through land owned by Bethlehem residents and could even cut the Aida Palestinian refugee camp, home to 3,500 people, in two. "We don't know what the Israeli plan exactly is and how much Palestinian land will be expropriated and annexed, but I can tell you it's a very serious and dangerous decision," Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser told Agence France Press (AFP). "Under the (1993) Oslo accords, Jews can freely access the site," he said, vowing to take legal action against the plan. But Jonathan Peleg, a spokesman at the Israeli foreign ministry said the plan would go ahead to ensure the safety of Jewish pilgrims. Stressing that the move was temporary, he admitted that Palestinian land would also have to be expropriated. "It is not an annexation, we just want to protect worshippers," Peleg said. "Freedom of religion is one thing that should be respected, but not if it is to harm other people and take away their land," said Yariv Oppenheimer, a spokesman for Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now. Knesset member Naomi Hazan, of the left-wing opposition party Meretz, said she was "absolutely outraged by this annexation, which has not been approved by any representative bodies in Israel." "We will try to do anything to reverse this decision, it is simply not acceptable," she said. The lead editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, entitled 'Grabbing Rachel's Tomb' on Friday said: "There is no dispute about the need to guarantee the safety of holy sites in a manner that allows prayer without endangering lives. But there is a substantial difference between security and exploiting security needs to conduct a political grab that unilaterally creates new facts on the ground."

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