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West Bank mosque torched, settlers suspected

June 19, 2012 9:34 A.M. (Updated: June 20, 2012 11:28 A.M.)
JABA, Ramallah (Reuters) -- A mosque in the village of Jaba in the central West Bank was vandalized and set on fire early on Tuesday, in a suspected attack by Israeli settlers.

Scrawled on the outside walls in Hebrew were the words "Ulpana War" -- referring to the Ulpana outpost in the Beit El settlement where the Israeli government is preparing to remove five disputed apartment buildings. -- as well as "The war has started" and "Pay the price."

Around three meters of the mosque's interior wall and carpeting were scorched in the East Jerusalem area village, near Beit El.

"At one o'clock we heard screaming from the people of the village and realized the mosque was on fire. More than three hundred people awoke and we managed to put it out," said mayor Abdul Karim Sharaf.

"After that we saw the writing, racist writing," he said. "This is great injustice clear to the world."

An Israeli police spokesman said investigators had arrived on the scene and were "looking into the possibility that it was a 'Price Tag' attack" -- referring to retribution settlers say they will exact for any attempt by the Israeli government to curb Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack, calling the assailants "intolerant and irresponsible lawbreakers" and said they would be brought to justice.

The mosque vandalism came as a July 1 deadline approaches for Netanyahu's government, in accordance with a court ruling, to tear down the Ulpana buildings, home to about 30 families in the Beit El settlement.

Palestinian officials insist Israeli settlements, built on land Israel captured in a 1967 war, will deny them a viable state. The settlements are deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice.
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