No clear leads yet in Yasuf arson, despite intensive effort
No clear leads yet in Ya
By YAAKOV LAPPIN
Security forces in the West Bank have launched an all-out search for the arsonist or arsonists who set fire to a mosque in the Samaria village of Yasuf on Friday, but no suspects or clear leads had emerged by Sunday evening.
"We take a very, very grave view of this incident," a police source said. "All security personnel are doing their maximum to track down those responsible and bring them to justice.
"This incident has consequences, and we have therefore placed a great deal of importance on tracking down the culprits," the police source said.
Police, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and IDF investigators were pooling their resources and examining a number of angles which they hope will provide them with new leads to follow.
Meanwhile, former National Security Council head Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland told The Jerusalem Post that the time had come for Israel to allocate more resources towards combating Jewish extremists in the West Bank.
"It seems that when Palestinian olive trees were cut down over the years, the incidents were not taken seriously enough. The attitude was, 'never mind,'" Eiland said.
"How many police investigators were assigned to investigate the cutting down of olive trees compared to similar offenses elsewhere? Quantitatively, not enough has been done by comparison to crimes in other locations," he added.
Eiland described the "price tag" policy - in which radical settler activists attack Palestinian civilians and property to express their displeasure at Israeli government actions - as cowardly acts directed against innocent people.
"Had they attacked Palestinians for something Palestinians did, this could at least be understood, but to attack Palestinians for what the Israeli government did and take 'revenge' on Palestinians is a form of cowardice," he said.
Eiland said the ability of security forces to apprehend the mosque arsonists formed "a test" that could have a major influence on future events.
"Many bad things could happen if the culprits are not brought to justice," he said.
Yoram Schweitzer, director of the Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said attacks on holy places like Friday's arson had the potential to ignite tensions lying dormant beneath the surface.
"This can blow up," he warned. "Things in the West Bank are not calm and under control, but rather they being kept on a low burner.
"On the other hand, that doesn't mean that every incident can lead to an explosion," Schweitzer added. "If we act with intelligence and the Palestinian side does the same, then those who wish to worsen the situation can be stopped, and this incident can be forgotten. That would be the natural course for events to take, unless another spark is lit.
"I hope and believe things do not have to deteriorate. But remember the atmosphere on the Palestinian side. Even the pragmatists are frustrated over the lack of progress [on the peace track]," Schweitzer added.
One of the worst example of an arson attack on a mosque leading to mass violence and casualties was seen in the 1992 arson attack by Hindu nationalists on the Barbi mosque in India - an event which set off large-scale rioting leading to 2,000 deaths.
Shlomo Brom, director of the Program on Israel-Palestinian Relations at the INSS, said Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank were far from such a crisis.
"I think it is exaggerated to think that one incident can lead to mass violence and change the picture completely. But an accumulation of events can lead to a flare up," Brom said.
"From what I see of the atmosphere in the West Bank, people are tired and there is no mood for a large flare-up. But an accumulation of incidents can change the mood," he added.
While terrorist organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad are always keen to pounce on events of this nature and utilize them for propaganda purposes, their abilities to launch terrorist attacks in the West Bank remain limited, Brom said.
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