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Israel suspects Jewish extremists in West Bank mosque burning

By Kevin Flower and Michal Zippori, CNN
updated 12:32 PM EST, Thu December 15, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Palestinian mosque vandalized and burned on the West Bank
  • Israeli authorities suspect Jewish extremists
  • Attack follows an attack by extremists against Israeli military base
  • Structures at an illegal West Bank settlement were demolished

Jerusalem (CNN) -- A day after the Israeli government announced measures to curb a spike in right wing violence in the West Bank, a Palestinian mosque was torched and vandalized in what authorities suspect is the latest in a string of attacks against both Palestinian and the Israeli military targets by Jewish extremists.

According to Palestinian officials the the al-Noor mosque in the West Bank village of Burqa was torched early Thursday morning and defaced with Hebrew graffiti reading "war" and "Yitzhar settlers."

Israeli police and military authorities said they received a complaint about the incident but that their investigative teams were unable to enter the area due to angry Palestinians residents who threw stones and barred them from entering.

The vandalism coincided with a Thursday morning operation by Israeli security forces in which two structures at the unauthorized settler outpost of Mitzpe Yitzhar were demolished. The demolition and mosque attack follow an incident earlier in the week in which several dozen right-wing Israeli extremists infiltrated and attacked an Israeli military base in the West Bank.

The activists entered the base, damaged property, set tires on fire, threw stones and damaged vehicles according the Israeli military. In the course of the violence an Israeli military commander was injured when rocks were thrown at his vehicle.

The brazen attack and the lack of action by Israeli soldiers to prevent it shocked many in Israel and lead to calls for the government to do more to stop what some officials were calling "Jewish terrorists."

In response Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a special meeting of security officials and announced Wednesday the adoption of recommendations to tackle the growing violence by Israeli right wing extremists.

Among the measures, the military will be allowed to arrest and try Israeli rioters in West Bank military courts and there will be an increase in resources for Israeli law enforcement agencies.

In a statement released by his office, Netanyahu promised that violators of the law would be "punished severely " but rejected a recommendation from security officials to label the perpetrators terrorists.

After a public event on Tuesday, Netanyahu told reporters, "I intend to fight this phenomenon with all the force available to me as prime minister of Israel. No person can raise his hand against IDF soldiers and police."

The Palestinian Authority government of Mahmoud Abbas was quick to condemn the mosque attack and argued that an Israeli double standard existed in West Bank security practices.

"While Palestinian protest is met with the reckless use of legal force... the Israeli forces do nothing to prevent or punish the rising trend of settler violence," read a statement released by the media department of the Palestinian Authority.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the number of settler attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties and property damage has increased by 40% in 2011 compared to 2010, and by over 165% compared to 2009

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