Trial Reopening of Hebron Site Draws Dozens of Jews, Few Muslims

Dozens of Jewish worshipers, but only a handful of Muslims, took advantage of a brief opportunity this week to pray at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank town of Hebron.

The Tomb was reopened Monday amid new security measures designed to separate Jewish and Muslim worshipers, but neither group appeared satisfied with the changes.

The site has remained closed since February, when a Jewish settler from nearby Kiryat Arba, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, opened fire on Muslim worshipers, killing 29 people.

Following the Cabinet’s approval on Sunday, the site was reopened for a trial period of two days, during which time a maximum of 300 Jews and an equal number of Muslims were to be allowed in each day.

Officials said that barring any incidents, the Tomb will be reopened again next week, according to reports.

But turnout on the first day of the trial was low.

Many Muslims respected a boycott called by Islamic fundamentalists who oppose any Jewish presence at the site, which is considered holy by both religions.

According to the new security arrangements, Jews and Muslims will hold their prayers in separate halls. They also will access the site from different entrances. Each side also will have exclusive use of the site during 10 religious holidays each year.

In the wake of the February killings, all weapons are banned from the site. A specially trained unit of border guards monitor the worshipers, who have to go through metal detectors to get inside. Closed circuit television cameras and intercoms have also been installed to enhance security.

Jewish and Muslim groups alike complained that the new security measures were unfair.

“It seems that it has been altered into a fortress,” Hebron mayor Mustafa Natshe said after touring the site.

One Jewish worshiper, Orit Strook, said, “They are allowed to go around in our place, and we think that is dangerous.”

Meanwhile, security measures at the Tomb were not completely airtight.

One member of the militantly anti-Arab Kach movement, Avishai Raviv, bragged Monday that he had been able to get past a security check despite an army ban preventing some 25 Kach members, including himself, from entering the site.

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