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Clashes after settlers torch mosque

Dec. 11, 2009 10:18 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 13, 2009 3:31 P.M.)
Nablus – Ma’an – Six Palestinians fainted after inhaling tear gas fired by the Israeli military during a protest east of Salfit on Friday.

Yasuf village's mayor, Abed Ar-Rahim Musleh, said the injured were hospitalized in Salfit. He described their injuries as light.

Residents took to the streets in the northern West Bank village after Israeli settlers set fire to a mosque the same day. Soldiers opened fire when the crowd arrived near the illegal Tapouh settlement, which was built on Yasuf village lands.

Musleh told Ma’an that settlers broke the main gate of the Al-Kabir Mosque at 4am and set fire to the building’s second floor. He said the fire destroyed copies of the Quran and carpets which were inside.

Settlers also wrote graffiti in Hebrew on the mosque’s floor reading, “We will have our revenge” and “We will burn you all,” the official added.

Residents scrambled to put out the fire in the modern mosque at the center of the village, which is home to 2,000 Palestinians. Palestinian Authority security forces also arrived and began an investigation.

President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the arson as "a disgraceful and barbarian crime."

"This attack is a violation of religious freedom and to holy sites," he added, speaking at a meeting with Israeli MK Ahmad At-Tibi in Amman. Abbas urged Israel "to put an end to the settlers' lawlessness."

The head of the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank, Yoav Mordechai, condemned the attack.

Mordechai told Ma'an that the attackers would be tracked down and prosecuted, adding that he had met with Salfit Governor Munir Al-Aboushi and leaders of the security services to discuss the incident.

The Israeli military also issued a statement saying it “condemns the vandalism of the Palestinian mosque.” It added that the Civil Administration received a complaint about the attack, and said Israeli forces were searching for the perpetrators.

Tensions have been high in the West Bank since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a partial slowdown on expansion of settlements two weeks ago. Angry settlers have vowed to resist the 10-month construction ban and also punish the Palestinian population in what they call a “price tag” campaign.

Netanyahu's construction ban applies only to certain settlements outside Israel’s expanded municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, and only to new buildings, not those already underway when the policy was announced.

The moratorium has galvanized the settler movement. On Wednesday night tens of thousands of settlers demonstrated in Paris Square West Jerusalem urging the expansion of settlements and denouncing Netanyahu.

Netanyahu came under pressure from the US government to freeze all settlement construction in the entire West Bank as a step toward renewing peace negotiations. The PA, however, dismissed the slowdown as insufficient.

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