Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday that groups of settlers carrying out self-defined "price tag" attacks against Palestinians "operate almost like terrorist organizations."

The attacks, carried out against Palestinians and private property, "embarrass the State of Israel," he said during a military tour. Barak also praised the West Bank settlement leadership for condemning the acts.

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Last week a mosque in the northern town of Tuba Zanghariya mosque was burned, causing significant damage. The attackers left the words "price tag" scrawled on nearby walls.

"These are events that need to be fought against. They humiliate the State of Israel and harm its strength and the legitimacy of all settlement within it," Barak said. The attacks also harm "Israel's standing and normal relations with our neighbors, the Palestinians."

President Shimon Peres said of the Tuba Zanghariya arson attack: "It brings great shame upon us. It is a terrible thing that I condemn in the strongest possible terms."

Police last week stepped up security around mosques and Islamic symbols around the country to prevent further "price tag" incidents and disturbances, following the vandalizing and arson of a mosque in the Galilee village of Tuba Zanghariya.

Police Insp.-Gen. Yochanan Danino ordered all police districts, as well as the police's Operations Branch, to go on alert in areas with Muslim communities.

Last month, police announced the formation of a special task force to track down and arrest far-right extremists who were behind price tag incidents in the West Bank.


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