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Settlers set fire to Huwwara prayer hall

May 3, 2011 10:26 A.M. (Updated: May 4, 2011 4:05 P.M.)
NABLUS (Ma'an) -- Ultra-orthodox Jewish Israeli settlers raided the northern west Bank town of Huwwara in the early hours of Tuesday morning and according to residents set fire a prayer hall in the local school.

Ghassan Daghlas, PA official charged with monitoring settler activity in the district, said the prayer hall in Huwwara sustained material damages due to the fire.

Locals reported the incident after hundreds of settlers entered the northern West Bank city of Nablus heading to Joseph's Tomb for prayer.

According to Israeli news site Ynet, the event was a vigil for a settler who had been shot by Palestinian police in April, when he and a group of 30 others attempted to sneak into the shrine without coordination with the military or Palestinian police.

"The service was duly coordinated with the IDF," the news site noted, adding that when the service completed and soldiers prepared to escort the group back to their settlements, "several dozens of youths tried to barricade themselves in the compound, but were evicted by the troops."

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP a small group of Israelis were arrested on Tuesday near the contested Joseph's Tomb site.

"We arrested more than a dozen Jewish worshipers who were at Joseph's Tomb without authorization," Rosenfeld said.

The group appeared to be extremists who arrived at the tomb shortly after an authorized group of Jewish worshipers prayed there.

The arrival of the smaller group provoked clashes with Palestinian youths, who throw stones at their cars, an AFP photographer at the scene said.

The town is located south of Nablus and Joseph's Tomb, on the main road connecting the northern and central West Bank. The town has often been the focus of settler attacks and vandalism.

Israeli and Palestinian liaison officials visited the site of the arson and initiated an investigation, sources said.

Officials said they feared further settler attacks against Palestinians, as tensions flare amid a possible unity agreement between rival political parties Fatah and Hamas. The move would reunify Palestinians under a single government, with the hopes that a single voice would be a diplomatic asset when leaders head to the UN in September to seek recognition of statehood.

Tensions in the northern West Bank were particularly high two weeks ago when settlers snuck into the area of Joseph's Tomb.

Palestinian police said they fired warning shots to disperse the group, which responded by blowing past a PA checkpoint. In the exchange of fire, one settler was killed.

Settler communities labeled the incident a "terrorist attack."

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