Festivities spur fracas in Hebron

JERUSALEM — Hebron has once again become the focus of violent confrontations, but this time it involved Israeli vs. Israeli.

Scuffles erupted Sunday when Israeli police prevented hundreds of left-wing activists from reaching Hebron, where the government was sponsoring celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of a renewed Jewish presence in the often volatile West Bank town.

The celebrations, part of events marking Israel's 50th birthday, attracted tens of thousands of Israelis, primarily settlers and religiously observant Jews who cite biblical sources as justification for a continued Israeli presence in Hebron. Most of the town is ruled by the Palestinian Authority.

Among the attendees were also several Cabinet ministers and Knesset members, along with Israel's chief rabbis.

Hundreds of Peace Now activists, who view settlements as an obstacle to peace, were stopped by police on their way to Hebron, where they planned to protest against any Jewish presence there.

Unable to drive into Hebron, the activists left from their buses and began blocking the main highway.

In the ensuing scuffles with police, some 32 Peace Now demonstrators were detained, all but one of whom were later released. Four protesters and one police officer were lightly hurt.

Police later let the demonstrators advance toward Hebron, but did not let them enter the city.

Military sources were quoted by the Israeli daily Ha'aretz as saying the peace activists were stopped from entering Hebron to "prevent bloodshed between Jews."