Settlers suspected in West Bank mosque attack

Israeli settlers were suspected of attempting to burn down a mosque in the occupied West Bank yesterday, drawing the condemnation of both Israeli and Palestinian officials.

The arsonists scrawled Hebrew graffiti on the walls of the mosque in el-Mughayer village which said, "Price tag, Aley Ayin", suggesting the attack was a retaliation for the Israeli authorities' removal of a Jewish settler outpost by that name.

Israeli settlers, whose red-roofed towns are sprawled across the hilltops of the West Bank, captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War, have frequently attacked Palestinian property as a part of a so-called "price tag" policy, where extremist settlers make Palestinians pay the price every time the Israeli Government seeks to curb the expansion of settlements.

"They know this is the thing that will most provoke the people," Laila Ghannam, the governor of Ramallah province, said. "They attack the land, they attack the people and now they attack holy sites."

Local officials said the residents of the village, which is close to Ramallah, discovered the blaze when they arrived for morning prayers. They said the arsonists had rolled blazing tyres into the mosque, causing damage to prayer rugs but failing to set the whole building ablaze.

Israeli officials immediately condemned the attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a "provocation", adding that "Israel has pioneered respect of freedom of worship and will work decisively against all who harm this principle".

Mr Netanyahu's right-wing government has ardently supported Jewish settlements, illegal under international law. But it has continued a policy of removing makeshift outposts built without permission. Peace talks collapsed last year over Israel's refusal to stop building on land coveted by the Palestinians for their future state.

The policy has fuelled tensions between Palestinians and the hardline Jewish settlers who believe that the West Bank has been promised to them by God. Gun-toting Israelis frequently carry out raids against Palestinian property, torching cars and olive groves and even shooting at people. Palestinians have responded with increasingly violent attacks on settlers. In one of the bloodiest incidents, a Jewish-settler family was recently murdered in their beds. Police later charged two Palestinians with the crime.

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