JERUSALEM — Hundreds of Palestinians entered the Joseph’s Tomb compound in the West Bank town of Nablus late Thursday and set it on fire, severely damaging the Jewish holy site in what Israel called a “despicable” act.
The overnight violence came amid calls for another "day of rage" in the region — although by 5:30 p.m. local time (10:30 a.m. ET), the violence did not appear to be as severe as other recent days. At least 40 people have been killed over the past two weeks.
Hours after the tomb was torched, an Israeli soldier was stabbed and lightly wounded at a Jewish settlement near the West Bank city of Hebron, according to the Israel Defense Forces. The attacker had disguised himself as a news photographer and was shot dead, the IDF added.
Meanwhile, at the Erez Crossing, on Gaza’s northern border with Israel, at least one Palestinian was killed and 30 wounded after protesters clashed with Israeli security forces, according to Dr. Ashraf Qudweh, of the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.
Israeli troops fired tear gas and live rounds at the protesters as they approached the crossing from Gaza, some throwing stones at the gate, The Associated Press reported.
Security officials pledged to hunt down those behind the attack on Joseph’s Tomb, which is said to contain the remains of the eponymous biblical patriarch.
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said: "The burning and desecration of Joseph's tomb … is a blatant violation and contradiction of the basic value of freedom of worship. The IDF will take all measures to bring the perpetrators of this despicable act to justice, restore the site to its previous condition and ensure that the freedom of worship returns to Joseph's Tomb."
He said the IDF would “make the necessary repairs in order to allow worshipers to visit the holy site.”
Masked Palestinians and a Palestinian flag were seen at the site. Palestinian firefighting teams extinguished the blaze.
The WAFA news agency reported Friday that Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the incident and created a committee to investigate the tomb's torching. He also ordered that it be repaired immediately.
Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad called for a "day of rage" in the region Friday following afternoon prayers in the mosques.
Demonstrations were also planned at West Bank points of friction, including Rachel’s Tomb, the Kalandiya checkpoint, and the Judea and Samaria intersection near Ramallah. Hamas also called for protests in Hebron, Tulkarm, and Nablus.
One cartoon posted online read "Friday of Rage" and showed a masked man brandishing a knife in front of the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is called the Temple Mount by Jews.
Some Palestinians believe that the Israeli government is trying to change the very delicate arrangements which govern worship at the al-Aqsa compound. Such claims have been vehemently denied by Israeli officials.
In a radio interview, Secretary of State John Kerry also warned Abbas that there was no justification for violence.
Alastair Jamieson and Ziad Jaber reported from London.