Israel arrests suspect in mosque arson

AP News
Posted: Oct 06, 2011 3:01 PM
Israel arrests suspect in mosque arson

Israeli police said Thursday they have arrested a suspect in a mosque burning that sparked violent protests in an Arab village earlier this week.

Police gave few details about the suspect, but his lawyer identified him as an 18-year-old seminary student with ties to one of the most hardline Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Monday's arson attack in Tuba-Zangria, a Bedouin village in northern Israel, set off a protest that were dispersed by police. The blaze damaged carpets and interior walls inside the mosque, and Israeli media said copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, were also burned.

Later in the day, Israel's chief rabbis, President Shimon Peres and Christian and Druse religious leaders visited the village to condemn the attack and express solidarity with residents.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the suspect was arrested Monday, shortly after the incident, but a gag order had prevented publication of the arrest.

Lawyer Adi Keidar, who is representing the suspect, said his client was a student at a religious seminary in Yitzhar, an ultranationalist settlement deep inside the northern West Bank. The student denied the allegations and is exercising his right to remain silent, Keidar said.

In August, Israeli authorities barred him from going to the settlement, he added. The suspect was one of 12 people served administrative orders on suspicion of planning violent attacks against Palestinians.

In Monday's attack, the assailants scrawled the words "price tag" on the mosque _ a reference to a Jewish settler tactic of attacking Palestinian targets to protest government activities against settlements. Authorities periodically dismantle illegally built structures in the West Bank.

The West Bank has experienced a jump in settler violence, including arson and graffiti attacks on mosques and vandalism of Palestinian farmland. The arson attack was a rare case of settler violence inside Israel proper.

On Thursday, Palestinian residents in the West Bank village of Qusra discovered nearly 200 olive and fig trees that were uprooted or destroyed. Villagers accused settlers of being behind the attack.

The Israeli military said the damage occurred hours after soldiers had blocked a group of settlers from trying to enter the village.

In a statement, the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem accused the military of not doing enough to protect Palestinian civilians from settler attacks. It called on Israel to "put a stop to these attacks and take all necessary measures to hold the perpetrators accountable."


Daniella Cheslow contributed to this report.