Assailants vandalize West Bank mosque

AP News
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Posted: Dec 11, 2009 6:03 AM

Assailants vandalized a Palestinian mosque early Friday, burning prayer carpets and holy books, and leaving behind Hebrew graffiti indicating the rampage was the work of settlers angry over Israel's plans to curb settlement construction.

Israeli settlers have repeatedly attacked Palestinians and their property in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to scale back settlement building under U.S. pressure. They call the attacks the "price tag" policy.

The assailants entered the village of Yasuf in the northern West Bank before dawn Friday, according to Israeli police and Munir Abushi, the Palestinian governor of the district where the village is located.

They burned prayer carpets and a book stand with Muslim holy texts, and left graffiti on the floor reading, "Price tag _ greetings from Effi." Effi is a Hebrew name.

The vandals escaped. The Israeli military said it views the incident "gravely" and is investigating along with the police. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a statement the incident was "an act of extremism designed to hurt any attempt by the government to make progress" toward renewing peace talks with the Palestinians.

After villagers discovered the damage, they briefly threw stones at Israeli forces that entered Yasuf, Abushi said. He said two villagers were hurt in the skirmish.

Abushi met with Israeli police and army officers and expressed his dismay over repeated settler attacks.

Israeli security forces have done little to protect Palestinian civilians from the settlers, he said, echoing a charge often made by Palestinians and Israeli and international rights groups.

In an apparent attempt to placate settlers over the construction slowdown, Netanyahu has proposed including tens of thousands of settlers, including many living in isolated settlements deep in the West Bank, in a government program that bestows monetary incentives on residents and businesses.

The move has drawn criticism from Netanyahu's coalition partner, the centrist Labor Party, which has indicated it will vote against the move at a Cabinet meeting next week.