NABLUS, For the second consecutive day, hundreds of Israeli settlers today stormed the archaeological site of Sebastia, north of Nablus city, according to a municipal source.
Sebastia mayor Mohammad Azzem told WAFA that hundreds of settlers forced their way into the site under the protection of the Israeli military, which declared the site off-limit for Palestinians.
He added that the site has become a scene for daily settler targeting and encroachments, particularly following the opening of a Palestinian tourist project, known as Bydar Project, and hoisting a large Palestinian flag.
Azzem said also that Israel has been trying to force the municipality to remove a large Palestinian flagpole, installed as part of a UNESCO-supervised rehabilitation project conducted in Sebastia’s public plaza in the area classified as Area B, under the pretext the flag provokes the settlers, whose presences in the village and at the site is also a provocation to the Palestinian residents.
Located 11 kilometers to the northwest of Nablus, Sebastia is a small historical town located on a hill with panoramic views across the West Bank and has a population of some 3,000 Palestinians.
A prominent settlement during the Iron Age as well as the Hellenistic and Roman eras, the town embraces a Roman amphitheater, temples, a Byzantine and a crusader churches, dedicated to Saint John the Forerunner, who baptized Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, besides to a mosque built in honor of the saint. Christians and Muslims believe the town to be the burial place of the saint.
Israel has been attempting to take over the town, which has become a site of heated cultural conflict, preventing the Palestinian Authority from conducting restoration works at the site, prohibiting providing tourist services to visitors from around the world, and stealing antiquities from it.
Palestinians complain that Israeli settlers have repeatedly attacked the town and fenced parts of its antiquities, where they hold religious rituals.
Owners of restaurants and hotels complain about the Israeli acts in the town which have caused them severe damages and losses.
Israel uses the Jewish nationalist name “Judea and Samaria” to refer to the occupied West Bank to reinforce its bogus claims to the territory and to give them a veneer of historical and religious legitimacy.
There are over 700,000 Israeli settlers living in colonial settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Source: Palestinian News & Info Agency (WAFA)