'Price tag' assailants attack mosque near Ramallah

Attackers spray graffiti, set fire to Jab'a village mosque; Netanyahu: Irresponsible lawbreakers will be brought to justice.

Price Tag attack on Jab'a village mosque 370 (photo credit: Iad Hadad/BTzelem)
Price Tag attack on Jab'a village mosque 370
(photo credit: Iad Hadad/BTzelem)
"Price tag" assailants burned a mosque in Jab'a village, near Ramallah sometime overnight Monday, police said Tuesday.
The attackers also sprayed graffiti on the mosque, including the words "Ulpana war," indicating that this was a price tag attack- an act of violence by right-wing activists against Arabs aimed at deterring Israeli leadership from acting against the settlement enterprise.
"At one o'clock we heard screaming from the people of the village and realized the mosque was on fire. More than three hundred people awoke and we managed to put it out," said Jab'a Mayor Abdul Karim Sharaf.
"After that we saw the writing, racist writing," he said. "This great injustice is clear to the world."
Judea and Samaria police arrived at the scene and gathered forensic evidence. The IDF was reinforcing its presence in the area and conducting searches for the perpetrators.
Police commissioner Ch.-Insp. Yochanan Danino on Tuesday, responding to recent hate crimes carried out by far-right elements, said the offenses were severe and had to be stopped. "Attacking religious symbols and holy sites is a grave and explosive phenomenon, which has consequences for the wider public," he said.
Danino passed down orders to police to do all that was possible to arrest the perpetrators, and to invest high levels of resources "to bring the criminals to justice and place them behind bars."
So far, two people have been charged for far-right hate crimes. Last year, police set up a national taskforce operating under the Lahav 433 unit to oversee efforts to arrest suspects.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu condemned the attack, calling the assailants "intolerant and irresponsible lawbreakers" and said they would be brought to justice.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak strongly also spoke out against the attack, calling it a "criminal act" and promising a swift response by the IDF.
"This is a grave and criminal act meant to destroy the social fabric in the region and distract the IDF from its missions, which include protecting Israeli citizens in the region," Barak said. "I have instructed the IDF and security forces to act with all available means in order to capture the perpetrators and to bring them to justice."
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon called the graffiti an act of "terror," adding that such activities harm not only Israel but also the settlement enterprise.
"Just yesterday I said at a Hasbara conference that price tag attacks are illegal, immoral, and gravely undermine the image of Israel and the settlement enterprise under the gaze of the international community," Ayalon wrote on his Facebook page. "And here, this morning, we hear about another price tag attack."
"We must not allow such acts of terrorism to continue," he said.
Yesha council chair Danny Dayan also condemned the attack, calling it immoral and saying that it damages the settlement enterprise.
Sources in the IDF Central Command voiced concern that additional attacks would take place and that the overall situation would escalate ahead of the planned demolition of the Ulpana outpost by July 1. The sources said that the IDF was prepared for such an increase and was bolstering its forces in the areas where it predicted that settlers and Palestinians would clash in the coming weeks. One particular hotspot has been near the settlement of Yitzhar, which has seen several clashes between the groups in recent weeks.
The police recently confiscated a number of weapons from members of the settlement's rapid response security teams.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu blocked Knesset legislation that would have stopped the demolition of unauthorized settler homes – paving the way for the evacuation of five buildings on private Palestinian land in the Ulpana neighborhood, on the outskirts of Beit El.
In return for the evacuation of parts of Ulpana, the government announced authorization of 851 new homes in West Bank settlements.
Tuesday's price-tag attack is the third since the government decided to comply with the High Court ruling and evacuate the Ulpana outpost. Last Monday, vandals damaged seven cars belonging to Arab residents of the Shuafat refugee camp in east Jerusalem. On June 8, vandals attacked the Jewish-Arab coexistence village of Neveh Shalom near Latrun, slashing the tires of 14 cars and spray-painting anti-Arab messages on the elementary school, public buildings and three cars.
Yaakov Katz, Yaakov Lappin, Melanie Lidman and Reuters contributed to this report.