Traditional tomb of Abraham stirs emotion

Hebron, West Bank - In the divided city of Hebron, Jews toss slips of paper with handwritten prayers into a room over the traditional burial place of Abraham. At the same site, Muslims raise their hands into the air invoking the name of Ibrahim. Both are revering the same forefather.

In a city inflamed with animosity between Jew and Arab, a delicate balance of power keeps passions in check at the site known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque.

Most of the time, the grandiose stone structure is divided into Jewish and Muslim sections to prevent contact, except for 10 days a year when each religion gets the whole site to itself.

Palestinians go through checkpoints guarded by Israeli soldiers before walking up a long staircase and entering the mosque's wide arched halls. Jews travel through Arab neighborhoods in bulletproof buses to reach the shrine.

The Bible says Abraham purchased the cave in Hebron from the town's ruler for 400 silver shekels to bury his wife Sarah around four millennia ago. Tradition holds that he, son Isaac, grandson Jacob and the matriarchs Rebecca and Leah are also buried there.

King Herod built walls around it 2,000 years ago. It was a church under the Byzantines, a mosque during the Arab conquest, a church during the Crusader period and a mosque again when the Muslims conquered the city in the 13th century.

A synagogue inside the shrine bears Arabic inscriptions from the centuries of Muslim rule.

A Jewish community lived and worshipped until it fled in 1929 after the city's Arabs, angered by the increased Zionist presence in British-controlled Palestine, killed 67 Jews.

After Israel conquered Hebron and the rest of the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, Orthodox Jews began moving back and eventually established permanent settlements near the tomb.