Hebron Mayor Shaikh Tayseer Abu Sneinah Image Credit: Hebron Municipality

Ramallah: Israeli occupation forces have forcibly prevented Hebron mayor Shaikh Tayseer Abu Sneinah from entering the Old Town and banned him from that key part of the city. The incident happened at Abu Al Reesh military checkpoint when a member of a nearby Israeli colony accused the mayor of being a terrorist.

Abu Sneinah, 60, was leading a municipal team on their way to check public schools on the first day of the Palestinian academic year. A Hebron Municipality official said that when the security forces turned back the group, the mayor attempted to discuss the matter but soldiers pulled him back by force and ordered him not to return to the Old Town of Hebron again.

The incident has been referred to the Palestinian Ministry of Governance and the leadership of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). It is expected to be discussed with the Israeli side via the Palestinian-Israeli Civil Affairs Liaison Office to find out whether the ban on the mayor is in fact permanent.

Abu Sneinah is a freed Palestinian prisoner who was convicted in 1980 of killing six Israelis from the nearby colony of Kiryat Arba’a. He was given a life sentence but released two years later in a prisoner exchange deal between the Israeli government and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The mayor, a Fatah cadre member, was nominated in the municipal elections in May to lead the Fatah block in Hebron, which did not have the necessary majority to form the municipal board. The Fatah block won only seven of the 15 municipal board seats, but Abu Sneinah was still elected Hebron mayor.

Since his election, he has faced a barrage of abuse from Israeli colonists, and the Israeli government officially denounced his victory in Hebron, which is the biggest Palestinian city after Gaza, with a population of 200,000.

Since Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, the Old Town of Hebron and particularly Al Ebrahimi Mosque — the fourth holiest site in Israel — have been a key target for Israeli occupation authorities.

They have restricted Palestinian and Muslim access to the mosque, which was divided into two sections. The Jewish sector is the largest and includes all the religious and historical attractions. The Muslim section is severely restricted. For several weeks a year, Muslims are denied access so Israeli colonists can conduct their Talmudic rituals and celebrate Jewish feasts.

In July, the UN’s world heritage body Unesco recognised the Old Town of Hebron and Al Ebrahimi Mosque as a Palestinian world heritage site.