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Palestinians say Israeli government was behind West Bank mosque fire

By Kareem Khadder, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Palestinian Authority accuses Israel of inciting the attack on a mosque
  • Israel says the accusation is false and condemns any damage to holy places
  • The arsonists spray-painted "beginning of revenge" and other words on the walls

(CNN) -- The Palestinian Authority has accused the Israeli government of incitement in an arson attack Tuesday on a West Bank mosque, claiming the act was committed by settlers under the protection of the Israeli military.

"Israel is forever accusing Palestinians of incitement, but does nothing to stop its citizens attacking our religious places -- what is that but incitement?" read a statement from the Palestinian Authority's media office.

Early Tuesday morning, a mosque in the West Bank village of Al-Mughayyir was set on fire, according to Palestinian and Israeli officials who said the arsonists also spray-painted "beginning of revenge," "price tag" and "Alei Ayin" on the mosque walls

"Price tag" attack is a term used by radical Israeli settlers to denote reprisal attacks against Palestinians in response to moves by the Israeli government to evacuate illegal West Bank outposts. "Alei Ayin" was an outpost located near Al-Mughayyir that was demolished by Israeli forces last week.

"Settlers came in the early hours of the morning ... poured burning materials around and inside the mosque, broke a window and entered the mosque, setting a tire on fire. The intention was to burn the entire mosque," Sheikh Darwish Mohamad, the mosque's imam, told CNN.

An Israeli military spokesman said the allegation that the attack was committed under the protection of the military is false and the military condemns any kind of vandalizing or damaging of holy places.

Israeli Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told CNN that Israeli police and Israeli military are investigating the incident.

Last week, Israeli security forces entered the Alei Ayin outpost and demolished four structures that were built illegally. In a confrontation between the settlers and the police, six police officers and five settlers were injured.

Abdel Salam Darwish, an 81-year-old worshipper, was surprised when he arrived at the mosque for dawn prayers and found the fire burning inside. Darwish told CNN that he received minor burns while trying to extinguish the blaze.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly condemned the torching of the mosque, calling it "a despicable act that comes to incite provocations."

"The state of Israel has made it a priority to respect freedom of religion and will act resolutely against anyone who will harm this principle" he added in prepared statement.