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Tensions spike in Hebron as Israeli soldiers conduct a crackdown

Israeli soldiers have also begun to occupy several Palestinian homes
Hebron has 200,000 Palestinian residents with approximately 500 Israeli settlers living in the centre (AFP)

Israeli forces launched a manhunt in Hebron Saturday after a number of shooting incidents that targeted Jewish worshippers and a soldier.

Two Israeli teenagers were shot and wounded Friday at the flashpoint site known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, the army said.

Israeli news organisations reported that soldiers were placed on top of Palestinian houses that looked out over the holy site on Saturday morning.

Around 4,000 Jewish worshipers visited Hebron Friday and Saturday as part of a religious pilgrimage centered on the biblical matriarch Sarah, who according to tradition was buried in a field that eventually became part of the city of Hebron.

A 16-year-old Palestinian allegedly shot and wounded a soldier near the Palestinian village of Beit Anon north of Hebron.

Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency said they had arrested the youth, who hailed from Bani Naim village east of Hebron.  

On Saturday, army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told AFP there was "ongoing activity to locate the perpetrators of yesterday's attacks".

Israeli forces began searching Palestinian homes in and around Hebron and set up new checkpoints, an AFP reporter said.

Israeli soldiers began to occupy a number of Palestinian homes in Hebron's Tel Rumeida neighbourhood, according to Al Jazeera.

"The [Israeli] soldiers banged on our door at 5:00am and said they had an order to take over our home for 24 hours," Shada Haddad told Al Jazeera by telephone.

The army also blocked off the northern entrance of Hebron with mounds of dirt. The eastern entrance has been sealed off for days.

Activists who are part of the Youth against Settlements group in Hebron said their office is "besieged" by settlers and soldiers.

In a clash between Palestinians and Israeli forces in the centre of Hebron on Friday, two Palestinians were wounded by live fire, Palestinian medics said.

B'Tselem, a progressive Israeli group that advocates equal rights for Palestinians, criticised the army for carrying out "immoral and unlawful" measures that hinder Palestinian freedom of movement in Hebron, including closing off the Tel Rumeida neighbourhood.

"These steps constitute collective punishment of residents of Hebron who are suspected of nothing and are forced to suffer serious disruptions in their daily lives," the group said.

Hebron has 200,000 Palestinian residents, with about 500 Israeli settlers living in the centre protected by an army-patrolled buffer zone.

Friday's unrest broke a brief lull in the wave of deadly attacks and violent protests throughout October that raised fears of a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli occupation.

Most of these had occurred in and around Hebron and mainly involved Palestinian stabbing attacks.

There were no clashes or attacks in the city on Saturday as troops searched for the assailants, although an army spokeswoman said a soldier was slightly wounded by "an accidental discharge of a bullet near a military position in Hebron".

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