The US has bashed Israel for jeopardizing the Middle East peace process by designating two shrines in the occupied West Bank as Israeli "national heritage sites."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday that Tel Aviv was planning to include Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron Al-Khalil in a "national heritage plan."
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner on Wednesday said Washington viewed the move as provocative and unhelpful to the goal of getting the two sides back to the negotiation table.
Toner said Washington had conveyed its displeasure with the move to senior Israeli officials.
The recent move further fanned up tensions between Tel Aviv and the Palestinians, which have conditioned any peace talks on a permanent freeze on all Israeli settlement construction activities in the occupied West Bank, including the illegally annexed East Jerusalem Al-Quds and a return to the borders of 1967.
The designation of the holy sites in the occupied territories enraged the Palestinians and drew protests from Jordan, Syria and Egypt as well as the United Nations, which urged Israel to avoid moves that would further distance Palestinians and Israelis and hurt prospects for peace talks.
The controversial plan prompted Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to call for uprisings in the occupied West Bank against the move which he said "aims to erase our identity, alter our Islamic monuments and steal our history."
"The decision requires a real response in the West Bank and for the people to rise up in the face of the Israeli occupation and to break every shackle in confronting it," he said on Tuesday.
In Ramallah, Acting Palestinian Authority Chief Mahmoud Abbas also condemned the decision as "a serious provocation which may lead to a religious war."
Al-Khalil was the scene of sporadic clashes between the Israeli troops and Palestinians near the Ibrahim Mosque above the Tomb of the Patriarchs while in Bethlehem shops and schools were closed Tuesday in a day-long general strike.