OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (Agencies) – Some 30 Jewish settlers broke into a Christian baptismal site late Monday in a closed military zone along the Jordanian-Israeli border to stage a protest, Agence France-Presse reported.
The Associated Press reported that the radical settlers cut a fence to enter the closed military zone along the border with Jordan on Monday night, quoting security officials.
AP said they took over an abandoned church on the Jordan River before Israeli security forces removed them and arrested the 17 people involved, quoting officials.
Jordanian officials said the Israelis did not cross the border into Jordan.
On Tuesday, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Holy Land condemned the assault by the hardline settlers on Saint John the Baptist Church on the banks of the Jordan River.
In a statement carried by the Jordan News Agency, Petra, Patriarch Theophilus III said the assault on the church was a terrorist act by settlers against the patriarchate’s rejection of attempts to Judaise the holy city of Jerusalem.
AFP said the right-wing extremists were protesting against the reaction of Muslim countries regarding the closure of Bab Al Magharbeh Bridge leading to Haram Al Sharif.
But Reuters reported that the hardline settlers were demonstrating against Jordan’s role as custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites.
Settler Hananel Dorfman, told army radio: “It was a message to Jordan: We are not suckers, stop intervening in our internal affairs… or we will intervene in yours,” Reuters reported.
AP reported that the protesters told Israeli forces they were protesting against the Israeli Jerusalem municipality’s shutdown of Bab Al Magharbeh Bridge.
Israeli officials cordoned off the Bab Al Magharbeh Bridge, a temporary wooden passageway leading to Al Aqsa Mosque, which conservationists warn is the first step of a wider Israeli plan to dramatically alter the site.
Minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs Abdul Salam Abbadi condemned the move on Monday, stressing that Jordanian officials have provided alternatives for renovating the path.
In another incident, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, around 50 settlers forced their way onto a key Israeli army base in the northern West Bank and vandalised military vehicles there following rumours that troops were about to evacuate settlement outposts, the military said, according to AFP.
Two were arrested in the wake of the attack.
Both incidents were condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak called both incidents “home-grown terror” and said they “threaten to damage the delicate relations Israel has with its neighbours”, AP reported.
The two incidents were the latest in a slew of revenge attacks by settlers, which for the most part targeted Palestinian and Arab property, but have also been directed at left-wing Israeli activists and the military.
These so-called “price-tag” attacks, usually carried out in response to steps against settlements, have been condemned by Israeli leaders, but the Palestinians say little action has been taken to prosecute those responsible, according to AFP.