HEBRON (Ma'an) -- Palestinian security forces dispersed a rally in the center of Hebron city in the southern occupied West Bank on Saturday, detaining at least 25 participants, Palestinian security sources said.
Protesters were marching to Russian Compound church, also known as Abraham's Oak Holy Trinity Monastery, to protest a decision by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to officially cede ownership of the compound and its surrounding lands to the Russian Patriarchate Commission.
Palestinian security sources told Ma’an that police used tear gas in order to disperse the protest, and proceeded to detain demonstrators. State-run Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that authorities also declared the church and it surrounding areas a closed military area.
However, the director of the southern West Bank office of the Independent Human Rights Commission, Farid al-Atrash, told Ma’an that the rally concluded “without disturbances to the peace and without any violations of citizens’ rights.”
He confirmed that security forces had prevented the demonstrators from reaching the monastery where they had planning to picket the PA's decision.
Participant of the march and well-known local figure Kamil Mujahid told Ma’an that the rally ended peacefully after participants succeeded in delivering their message.
Initial reports had credited the political organization Hizb al-Tahrir with organizing the protest. However, Mujahid said it was a collective action among residents in Hebron.
While Hizb al-Tahrir denied it had organized the rally, supporters of the party had delivered speeches on Friday in several mosques urging Palestinians to join the protest.
According to Wafa, Hizb al-Tahrir has claimed the property of the church site is an endowment of the al-Tamimi family in Hebron and therefore it should not be turned over by the PA to the Russian church.
Wafa quoted a Palestinian security source as saying that “The insistence of some members of al-Tahrir party to hold an illegal gathering" was in "in defiance of the decisions by the al-Tamimi family," and "endangers public security and creates sectarian strife."
The source also said that no one had applied for a permit for the march.
Wafa also reported that Palestinian police stopped bulldozers that were heading to the site and detained the drivers.