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Abbas Warns Of 'Religious War'

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JERUSALEM — The Palestinian president warned Tuesday that the region could plunge into a "religious war" over Israel's plans to recognize a disputed West Bank shrine as one of its own national heritage sites.

Mahmoud Abbas spoke during a visit in Belgium, following an announcement by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the Cave of Patriarchs in Hebron earlier this week.

The Hebron site is holy to both Jews and Muslims. Jews revere it as the traditional burial place of the Bible's Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Muslims also see Abraham as their forefather, and control of the shrine is a flashpoint between Palestinians and Israelis.

Palestinians in Hebron rioted Monday to protest the Israeli decision, and tension there continued Tuesday.

After Abbas spoke, Nir Hefez, a spokesman for Netanyahu, denounced the criticism of the Israeli move. "This is a hypocritical campaign of lies," Hefez said in a statement, insisting that Israel is "dedicated to the freedom of worship of the members of all religions at all the holy sites."

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