Villagers accuse Jewish extremists of burning mosque

Tension high in West Bank following attacks by Palestinians against Israelis

A Palestinian from the West Bank village of Al Mughayir shows a burning Koran at the village mosque after it was reportedly set on fire yesterday. A recent wave of violence on both Israeli and Palestinian territory has sparked fears of further unrest in the region. Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

A Palestinian from the West Bank village of Al Mughayir shows a burning Koran at the village mosque after it was reportedly set on fire yesterday. A recent wave of violence on both Israeli and Palestinian territory has sparked fears of further unrest in the region. Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

 

Residents of a West Bank village have accused Jewish extremists of burning down a mosque, as tension remains high following a series of fatal attacks by Palestinians on Israelis in the past few weeks. Faraj al-Naasan, the mayor of the village of Mugheir, northeast of Ramallah, said Jewish settlers started the pre-dawn fire that destroyed the mosque’s first floor.

“Only Jewish settlers would do this,” he said, citing a previous settler attack against another mosque in the village two years ago and frequent settler attacks against vehicles and olive groves.

A woman who lives close to the mosque reported seeing two white vechicles speed away just before the blaze. However, Israeli police investigators said it was too soon to say whether the fire was a revenge action by settlers in response to recent attacks by Palestinians against Israelis.

The police said Jewish extremists who had carried out similar attacks in the past, so-called “price-tag” actions, daubed anti-Arab graffiti in Hebrew on nearby walls. No graffiti was painted in the village after yesterday’s fire.

The Islamic Jihad said it would respond at “any moment” to the blaze. “Those who encourage and allow attacks on mosques and against Palestinians should expect a response,” it said.

In a separate incident, a petrol bomb was thrown at a synagogue in the Israeli Arab town of Shfaram, causing a small fire and minor damage to the structure. Firefighters, who were called to the scene by the Arab family charged with safeguarding the site, extinguished the blaze.

Tension remains high with thousands of Israeli soldiers drafted to the West Bank and police reinforcements brought to Jerusalem. Palestinian security officials warned their Israeli counterparts that the Palestinian Authority will find it difficult to contain the violence if Israel carries out unilateral actions that alter the status quo.

Despite what commentators are describing as a flammable atmosphere, the Israeli authorities yesterday gave preliminary approval for the construction of another 200 Jewish apartments in disputed east Jerusalem. “This is terrible – and in the middle of such a sensitive period,” said Peace Now spokesman Lior Amihai.

A municipality official stressed that along with permission for the construction in the Jewish Ramot neighbourhood, the green light was also given to build 174 new homes in a Palestinian neighbourhood. Israel captured east Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

In a separate development, Israeli police arrested two border policemen in connection with the killing of two Palestinians during protests six months ago at the Ramallah-area checkpoint of Beitunya