Four days after he caused a storm by declaring that the Cave of the Patriarchs would be added to the heritage list, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday sent a message to the Palestinians aimed at reducing tension.
"This was a misunderstanding," the prime minister said. "We have no intention of changing the status quo regarding Jewish or Muslim praying. We want to maintain the current prayer arrangements. The renovations were carried out in coordination with the Waqf. They were necessary repairs."
During a talk with Russian language Channel 9, Netanyahu added, "We want to make some repairs to the Jewish part too. These are the sites of our forefathers. I respect both our forefathers and theirs – as well as freedom of worship."
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister's Office criticized Palestinian leaders who had called for renewing the armed struggle against Israel in response to the prime minister's declaration regarding the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb, both located in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Head of the National Information Directorate Nir Hefetz said, "This is a false and hypocritical campaign. The State of Israel is committed to the freedom of worship of all religions in all holy sites, and this is what is it doing in practice."
The government also won the support of the opposition.
MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) rejected the threats of violence as well.
"The State of Israel allows all religions the freedom of worship and can be proud of it. In any arrangement, Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs will be heritage sites in Israel, and the Palestinians will not decide for us," he said.