West Bank mosque arson condemned

Vandals write "price tag" on wall; UN Envoy: Israel responsible for protecting Palestinian sites; US: Vandalism undermines comprehensive peace.

By KHALED ABU TOAME
June 7, 2011 14:40
4 minute read.

Price Tag Mosque 311. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

 
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An arson attack on a West Bank mosque early Tuesday morning drew sharp condemnation from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, as well as from Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Palestinians in Mughayir, located northeast of Ramallah, say settlers entered the mosque just before dawn, climbed through a window and set fire to the carpet in the structure, which was built just two years ago.

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Hamas vowed to avenge the vandalism and accused the IDF of protecting the perpetrators.

US State Department deputy spokesman Mark C. Toner said “these incidents have served to undermine efforts to promote a comprehensive peace in the region.

We call on the Israeli government to investigate this attack and bring the perpetrators to justice, and for calm from all parties.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a harsh condemnation of the vandalism.



“This is a crime designed to instigate a provocation,” he said. “Israel has made it a priority to respect freedom of religion, and we will act resolutely against anyone who harms this principle.”

He said he hoped the perpetrators would be caught promptly and brought to justice.

On Tuesday morning, residents of Mughayir showed the media three large burned areas where the flames had destroyed the carpet completely.

The smell of smoke still hung in the air as they surveyed the damage inside, which was limited to the carpet and the floor. On the mosque’s outer stone wall the vandals had spray-painted four words, which led the Palestinians to believe that settlers had damaged their house of prayer.

The vandals wrote in large letters, “Price Tag,” a phrase that defines a policy by which extremist right-wing activists perpetrate acts of vengeance against Palestinians to protest IDF actions against West Bank Jewish residents.

In smaller letters the vandals wrote the name of a nearby small outpost, Alei Ayin, which the army destroyed last week.

Among the first village residents to see the blaze was Abid Asalam, who had come to the mosque to pray, but instead found himself putting out a fire.

He held out his hands to show they were still black from the smoke and ash.

The IDF and the police have opened an arson investigation.

“We believe suspects set fire to a tire inside the mosque,” Rosenfeld said. “No fire damage was observed on the walls.”

Officials from the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria met with Palestinian representatives as part of an effort to decrease tensions.

Separately, on Tuesday afternoon, security forces returned to the Alei Ayin outpost and destroyed a home there, which had been rebuilt in the last few days.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the security forces to take any measures necessary to capture the perpetrators.

“This criminal act is intended to inflame passions and to harm the potential for people to live side by side in peace. I believe that the IDF and security forces will do everything they can to find the perpetrators of this malicious act,” Barak said in a statement.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas instructed the governor of Ramallah to cover the costs of renovating the mosque.

“Israeli authorities can’t continue to turn a blind eye to these practices,” Abbas’s office said in a statement. “The international community should condemn this scandal and hold Israel accountable.”

Fatah described the vandalism as a terrorist attack, and accused Israeli authorities of “collusion” in settler “crimes.”

Robert Serry, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, called on the government to protect Palestinians in areas under its control.

“The actions of Israeli extremists are highly provocative and threatening. I note the condemnation of this attack by the Israeli government and stress the need for forceful action against this and other like attacks,” Serry said.

“Consistent with its obligations under international law as the occupying power, the Israeli government must ensure the accountability of those responsible and protect the human rights of Palestinians and their property, including religious sites,” he said.

On Thursday, the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said that "respect of freedom of worship is an essential value. The EU takes note of the condemnation of the Israeli government and calls on on the authorities to investigate this attack and bring the perpetrators to justice. These provocations undermine efforts to promote a comprehensive peace in the region. The EU will continue to focus all its efforts on achieving a peaceful and negotiated resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

Far-right activist Itamar Ben- Gvir said no one should be surprised if it turned out the vandals had carried out a “price tag” attack.

“The anger that has arisen from the destruction of one outpost after another has consequences, he said.

The Binyamin Citizens Committee said that Netanyahu and Barak should examine that actions led to the mosque fire.

Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, called the mosque attack “despicable.” He cautioned that it was still unclear if the vandals were Israeli or Palestinian.

“In principle, any attack on a place of prayer or a synagogue is despicable and worthy of condemnation,” he said.

Should it turn out that the perpetrator was an Israeli, seeking to promote the cause of Judea and Samaria, than “he is an idiot,” Dayan said.

He added, however, that the government policy of destroying outposts and freezing many Jewish West Bank construction projects has weakened the influence of the moderate leadership and strengthened extremist elements.

Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.

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