Palestinians in the West Bank have blamed Israeli settlers for defacing a mosque in a village near Bethlehem and burning copies of the Koran in an attack that threatens to fuel tensions over Israeli settlement construction.
AFP - Vandals spray-painted and torched a mosque in the southern West Bank very early Monday in an attack Palestinian witnesses and officials blamed on Israeli settlers.
They said six armed men in a white car drove into Beit Fajjar village near Bethlehem at 3:00 am (0100 GMT) and spray-painted Hebrew insults on the walls before setting the building alight.
Some of the group were wearing Jewish skullcaps and at least one wore a mask, they said, adding that the men appeared to be Israeli settlers.
Several Korans and prayer rugs were incinerated in the attack, according to Ali Sawabta, of the local municipality.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the incident was under investigation without providing details as to who may have been behind it.
Police detained several settlers after a West Bank mosque was torched and vandalised in December 2009 and firefighters said another mosque fire in May of this year was likely caused by arson.
Hardline settlers have adopted what they call a "price tag" policy under which they attack Palestinians, their fields or villages, whenever the Israeli government takes measures to curb settlement construction.
They have also retaliated after deadly attacks by Palestinian militants, such as the one in late August when Hamas gunmen shot dead four settlers, including a pregnant woman, on a West Bank road.
The dispute over Jewish settlements has been at the heart of tense US-led negotiations aimed at rescuing Israel-Palestinian peace talks after a ban on building new settler homes in the West Bank expired on September 26.
The Palestinians view the presence of some 500,000 Israelis in scores of settlements across the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem as a major impediment to the establishment of their promised state.
The international community views all the settlements as illegal, and the dispute has been one of the thorniest issues in past peace talks.
Date created : 2010-10-04