Hundreds of illegal Israeli settlers have overrun a Palestinian archaeological site in the occupied West Bank town of Sebastia, Wafa news agency has reported. According to the local mayor, Mohammad Azem, the settlers forced their way into the site under the protection of Israeli soldiers, who declared the site to be off-limits to Palestinians.
Sebastia is a small Palestinian town of historic importance located on a hill eleven kilometres north-west of Nablus, with a population of 3,000. The area has been identified by UNESCO as the capital of the northern kingdom during the Second Iron Age in Palestine and a major urban centre during the Hellenistic and Roman periods.
Meanwhile, in the town of Kifl Haris, Israeli settlers also stormed Islamic shrines and vandalised vehicles today, according to the mayor. Ali Al-Qaq said that, as elsewhere, the settlers were protected by Israeli soldiers. They broke into the shrines of prophet Dhul-Kifl, the Sufi religious leader Dhul-Nun and another shrine built by 12-century Sultan Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi.
The village of Kifl Haris is known for its four historic shrines and it contains the graves of a number of religious figures. Some Jews believe them to be the Biblical figures Joshua, Caleb and Nun.
Attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians are increasingly common, particularly by extreme right-wingers. They are rarely held to account by the occupation authorities. Indeed, in most cases, the settlers who harass and attack Palestinians are accompanied and protected by Israeli security forces, and it is often the Palestinians who are regarded as the criminals.
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