Joseph Tomb set on fire in West Bank

Palestinians have torched a site in the West Bank revered by Jews and others worldwide in an incident that threatens to further inflame more than two weeks of deadly unrest, as new  protests were planned for Friday.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, under pressure over recent comments that some have labeled incitement, quickly condemned the fire at the site known as Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus.

Video showed what looked like an extensive blaze and the Israeli army called it “a despicable act” of desecration.

The arson came as Palestinians called for a “Friday of revolution” against Israeli occupation, and Jerusalem police barred men under 40 from attending the main weekly prayers at the flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque, seeking to keep young protesters away.

Israeli occupation security forces have deployed massively in Jerusalem after two weeks of Palestinian attacks in the city and across Israel. From Sunday, some 300 soldiers will reinforce police numbers.

It’s the first time since 2002 that the soldiers deployed in such large numbers. The last time was during the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada, according to a security source.

The UN  security council will hold an emergency meeting at Jordan’s request on Friday to discuss the rise of violence.

Binyamin Netanyahu , The Israeli prime minister, on Thursday reiterated his willingness to meet Abbas, while accusing him of supporting and encouraging violence.

“It’s time President Abbas stops not only justifying it, but also calling for it,” Netanyahu told reporters.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, who plans to visit the region “in the coming days” to try to calm tempers, also warned Abbas not to incite violence.

Abbas has called for peaceful protest, but had not explicitly condemned any attacks in the recent wave of unrest until Friday’s statement on the holy site. He said the “illegal” arson “offends our culture and our religion and our morals”. He said a committee would investigate and the damage would be repaired.

The Palestinian leader has faced heavy criticism over a statement on Wednesday night in which he claimed a Palestinian youth had been executed. Israel has released photos and videos which they say show the 13-year-old, accused of taking part in two stabbing attacks, recovering in hospital.

Joseph’s Tomb, inside a compound in the Palestinian refugee camp of Balata in Nablus, has been the scene of recurring violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Many Jews believe it to be the final resting place of the biblical Joseph, while Muslims believe that an Islamic cleric, Sheikh Yussef (Joseph) Dawiqat was buried there two centuries ago.

Under the Israeli-Palestinian agreements of the mid-1990s known as the Oslo peace agreement, Israel withdrew from Nablus and the other Palestinian cities but was assured free access to Jewish holy sites. The Israeli Army turned Joseph’s Tomb into a fortified post, and a small yeshiva continued to operate there.

The Tomb  is under Palestinian control and off-limits to Israelis except on escorted trips organized by the army. The Israeli military said it would make the repairs necessary to allow visits to continue and “take all measures to bring the perpetrators of this despicable act to justice”.

There were warnings that the fire could worsen the unrest.

“Burning Joseph’s Tomb is a dangerous attempt to exacerbate an already tense environment,” Nickolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said on his account on Twitter.

Stabbing attacks and violent protests have swept the Palestinian territories. Thirty-three Palestinians have died, including alleged attackers, and hundreds more wounded in clashes with Israeli forces. Seven Israelis have also been killed.

Abbas again called on Wednesday night for peaceful resistance, but young people were fed up with Israel’s occupation violation and the lack of progress in peace efforts have grown tired of his leadership.

The random  attacks refer  to the fact that there’s  no mastermind for security forces to pursue.

The attacks have fanned Israeli anger and fear, meanwhile, online video footage of security forces shooting dead alleged assailants has fed Palestinian anger, with protesters seeing the killings as unjustified.

The violence began on 1 October, when a suspected cell of the Islamist movement Hamas was suspected to  murder a Jewish settler couple in the West Bank in their car. Those killings followed repeated clashes at east Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound in September between Israeli occupation forces and Palestinian youths.