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PA investigating mosque arson

Oct. 4, 2010 10:24 A.M. (Updated: Oct. 6, 2010 9:04 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian Authority police have launched an investigation into a fire in a mosque believed to have been caused by Israeli settlers overnight in Bethlehem, the district's chief prosecutor said Monday.

Alaa Tamimi arrived at the scene of the suspected arson at the Al-Anbiya Mosque in Beit Fajjar and said investigations would be launched into it "and all settler assaults against Palestinians are being documented as requested by Attorney Muhammad Al-Mughanni."

Locals told Ma'an that several settlers ransacked the mosque overnight and set fire to carpets inside. Muhammad Taqatqa, who lives next to the mosque, said he saw a white car with Israel license plates leaving town after the mosque was set on fire, heading west toward the Etzion junction.

Taqatqa said 15 versions of the Quran were burned in the incident and that stones surrounding pillars inside the mosque collapsed. Anti-Palestinian slogans were written across the mosque's walls, he said.

Residents said they hurried to extinguish the fire until Palestinian firefighters and police arrived at the scene, adding that locals clashed with assailants following the arson, prompting Israeli forces to deploy in the town to contain the fight.

Israeli army 'searching for culprits'

An Israeli military spokeswoman told Ma'an that Israeli police in the West Bank have begun operating in the area to locate the assailants.

She further said head of Israel's Civil Administration Yoav Mordechai "personally spoke with Palestinian Authority officials" to inform them that the Israeli army takes the incident seriously and is working on "tracking down the culprits [who will be] severely punished by authorities."

PA official: Arson part of campaign against everything Palestinian

Director of PA Ministry of Religious Endowment in Bethlehem Muhammad Ayish denounced the attack, describing it as part of a "campaign against everything Palestinian."

He added: "Israel responds to peace by arson, judaisation, settlement construction and land confiscation. This arson reminds us of the arson against Al-Aqsa Mosque in 1969."

The Israeli settlement of Migdal Oz is a kilometer away from the mosque and there have been several skirmishes between settlers and residents of Beit Fajjar in the past.

(This version UPDATES statement from the Israeli army.)
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