JERUSALEM, Israel - The Obama administration expressed its extreme displeasure with Israel's inclusion of the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb in Jewish Heritage Sites, which are slated for renovation and preservation.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said he conveyed the message to senior Israeli officials vis-à-vis American diplomats.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called it a "dangerous provocation" that could lead to "religious war," while Arabs rioted in Hevron.
The United Nations also criticized the decision.
Israelis, both religious and secular, were generally pleased with the government's decision.
Most Jews feel a deep connection with the Cave of the Patriarchs (called the Machpela in Hebrew), where Abraham, Issac and Jacob and their wives are buried, according to the Bible.
Rachel's Tomb, the traditional burial place of Jacob's second wife, is also deeply tied with the biblical history of the Jewish people.
Part of the problem stems from the sites being located in parts of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) now under Palestinian Authority control.
Joseph's Tomb in Nablus (biblical Shechem) and Tel Shiloh are other Jewish biblical sites in PA-controlled areas.
In October 2000, a month after then PA chairman Yasser Arafat launched the second intifada (armed Palestinian uprising), local Arabs pillaged Joseph's Tomb.
Israelis have worked to rebuild the tomb, where Jews are bused in from time to time to hold prayer services.
On Wednesday, Israeli President Shimon Peres addressed the issue in a meeting with Robert Serry, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East process.
"We don't need to produce artificial conflicts," Peres said.
"Israel will continue to grant freedom of worship to every religion in every holy place," he said, before opening the meeting with the following statement.
"Israel plans to invest significant amounts in infrastructure that will increase the accessibility of holy sites to all worshipers. By doing so it aims to honor and allow freedom of worship to all, irrespective of their faith, and protect the holy sites. There is no violation of Muslim or Christian religious rights in any holy place," he said.
The president asked Serry to convey "this clear message" to the U.N. secretary-general to help quench those individuals who would like to "incite unnecessary conflict."