Jewish settlers set fire to part of a mosque in the occupied West Bank on Monday, Palestinians said, an attack that looked like a reprisal for Israel’s dismantling of three buildings in an unauthorized settlement outpost hours earlier.
The mosque in Qusra village, some 15 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Nablus, was damaged when two tires were set alight on the ground floor of the building, which was being used as a storage area, local residents said, blaming Jewish settlers.
Abdel Azeem Wadi, a member of the village council in Qusra near the Palestinian city of Nablus, said settlers threw burning tires into the mosque, damaging the entire first floor.
Earlier on Monday, Israeli authorities following a court order demolished three houses in Migron, a hilltop outpost.
The names of Migron and a second Jewish outpost were written in Hebrew on the mosque walls , as well as insults against the Prophet Mohammed and a Star of David.
The attack was very similar to another arson attack on a mosque in a nearby village which took place in early June, just days after police had demolished an outpost called Alei Ayin, sparking fierce clashes with settlers.
Monday’s pre-dawn attack came as hundreds of police and soldiers entered Migron and dismantled three structures after those living there were evacuated, police said, adding that the move had been approved by a court.
“Six settlers who tried to prevent the demolition were arrested after attacking the forces,” spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak had ordered the three structures be taken down in June. In early August, the Supreme Court issued an identical order, although it gave the authorities until March 2012 to implement the decision.
Hard-line settlers have adopted what they call a “price tag” policy under which they attack Palestinians and their property in response to Israeli government measures against settlements.
Danny Danon, an MP with the ruling right-wing Likud party and vocal proponent of the settlement movement, described Barak’s decision to dismantle Migron as “disastrous.”
“There is absolutely no good reason to demolish the homes of these law-abiding citizens,” he said in a press statement, describing it as “sending a message of weakness” to the Palestinians.
During the upcoming Jewish holidays, thousands of Likud activists would “visit the pioneers of Migron,” in a mass show of support, he said.
Israel considers settlement outposts built in the West Bank without government approval to be illegal, and often sends security personnel to demolish them. They usually consist of little more than a few trailers.
Migron is one of about 100 small outposts that settlers built without government approval on land that Israel captured in a 1967 war and which Palestinians want for a future state.
Settler-related incidents resulting in Palestinian injuries and damage to property are up more than 50 percent this year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which documents violence in the Palestinian territories.
The international community considers all settlements built in the occupied West Bank, including annexed Arab east Jerusalem, to be illegal.