Mosque fire leads to West Bank clash

Sat, Dec 12, 2009, 00:00

RESIDENTS OF the West Bank village of Yasuf clashed yesterday with Israeli security forces that came to investigate an arson attack at the local mosque.

Six villagers and an Israeli border policeman were hurt after Israeli forces opened fire to disperse some 100 angry residents of the village, south of Nablus. The villagers were protesting the arson attack that destroyed prayer carpets and holy books.

The arsonists sprayed graffiti in Hebrew reading “We will burn all of you” and “Prepare to pay the price tag”. A few months ago, radical settlers declared that West Bank Palestinian residents would pay a “price tag” every time the Israeli security forces dismantled illegal settlement structures.

The extremists may now have extended their actions to retaliate against the 10-month construction freeze on settlements which was declared last month by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government.

Israeli police said they suspected settlers were responsible for the mosque attack, but no arrests were made. The overwhelming majority of settler attacks on Palestinian residents and property go unpunished.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called the arson a “despicable crime”, and demanded that Israel put a stop to the “brutal settler behaviour and wild antics”.

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak said he viewed the incident gravely, and promised that the security forces were working to locate the perpetrators. “This is an extremist act geared toward harming the government’s efforts to advance the political process for the sake of Israel’s future,” he said.

Danny Dayan, head of the settlers’ council, condemned the attack as “both wrong and foolish, and damaging to the settlement enterprise”. On Wednesday, more than 10,000 Israelis had protested in Jerusalem against the construction moratorium.

Faced with criticism from the right, including from within his own ruling Likud party, Mr Netanyahu this week pushed through two measures designed to placate his constituency: he backed a Bill requiring a referendum on any land-for-peace deal that includes Israeli territorial concessions, and he changed the map of areas that receive top-level government assistance to include dozens of settlements, including isolated communities outside the main West Bank settlement blocs.

Labor ministers said they will vote against the new map they claim will divert funds from deprived regions to the settlements.