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HEBRON, West Bank _ The most sacred tree in the Middle East is dead.
Or so said a botanist in a conversation the other day.
The tree is Abraham's Oak, at the biblical spot of Mamre, just outside Hebron, the city that has become a virtual synonym for Middle East conflict.
Tradition holds that the oak was a favorite resting spot of the biblical patriarch who lived about 4,750 years ago _ the place where the Old Testament says Abraham was visited by angels, where he was told by God that his wife Sarah would have a son and where he pleaded for Sodom and Gomorrah to be spared.
``It looks completely dead,'' Avishai Shmeda, a botany professor at Hebrew University, said last week. ``I think it's dead _ or at least dying.''
He added that biblical scholars estimate the tree is only 300 years old but believe it is a direct descendant of the holy oak.
What was it? Dead or dying? Could the holiest tree in the Holy Land succumb like this, with no warning …