An attack against a mosque in a West Bank village early on Wednesday ignited a fire that destroyed its first floor, the village’s mayor said, blaming Jewish settlers for the attack.
The fire broke out before dawn in the village of Mughayer, north of Ramallah, said Mayor Faraj al-Naasan. He said efforts of residents and Palestinian fire services to quell the blaze succeeded only in saving the building’s second floor.
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The mayor said he had no doubt that Jewish settlers were responsible, citing a previous settler attack against another mosque in the village two years ago and frequent settler attacks against vehicles and olive groves there.
“Only Jewish settlers would do this, ” al-Naasan said.
In a related incident, Israeli police said a Molotov cocktail was thrown at an ancient synagogue in the Israeli-Arab town of Shfaram late on Tuesday night, causing light damage.
The attacks came as Israeli-Palestinian tensions are soaring, mostly against the background of competing claims to a holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Visits by Jewish worshippers to the site — known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — have raised concerns among Muslims that Israel is secretly trying to take over the site. This in turn has fanned strife in a region already on edge following the collapse of U.S.-led peace talks, Israel’s bloody war last summer in the Gaza Strip, and new Israeli settlement construction plans in east Jerusalem.
The tensions at the shrines have frequently boiled over into violent demonstrations, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel has no plans to change the status quo at the Jerusalem holy sites.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu traded accusations on Tuesday over the tensions, with Abbas saying that frequent visits to the site by Jewish worshippers are fueling clashes and accused Israel of leading the region toward a “religious war.” The Israeli leader said Abbas was making matters worse and inflaming tempers.
Abbas’ adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh said Abbas was scheduled to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Thursday, and would emphasize his concerns about alleged Israeli attempts to change the status quo at the Jerusalem holy site.
On Wednesday, Abbas was to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah II. Jordan, which is the custodian to the Jerusalem holy site, recalled its ambassador in protest after an Israeli police raid last week over a clash at the entrance to the mosque.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police were deployed later Wednesday near the entrance to Mughayer but that “disturbances in the area” were preventing them from opening an investigation.
Rosenfeld did not elaborate on the extent of the disturbances but attacks such as the one in Mughayer frequently ignite violent protests.
Meanwhile, an Israeli border policeman was arrested in connection with the death of a Palestinian demonstrator near Ramallah in May, Rosenfeld said. Israeli security forces said they used only rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, but Israeli media have reported that the border policeman may have used live fire during the incident.