Recent confrontations between hard-line West Bank settlers and Palestinians, surrounding the evacuation of Hebron's so-called House of Contention, are likely to entangle Israel in a religious confrontation with Muslim communities the world over, a senior security source told Haaretz this weekend.

The violence included the desecration of Muslim cemeteries in Hebron and anti-Muslim graffiti on mosque walls in the city, as well as around Qalqilya and Ramallah.

Civil Administration officers in the area quickly washed off the graffiti, before pictures of it could be obtained by the Qatari news station Al Jazeera.

Such a broadcast would have reached homes throughout the Arab and Muslim world, and could have sparked a major conflagration, the source said, recalling the wave of demonstrations in 2005 and 2006, following a Danish newspaper's publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

Sources in the security establishment believe the rise in violence of recent months is attracting renewed international attention to confrontations between settlers and Palestinians, an issue which had largely faded from public view.

U.S. and European representatives who met with Israeli diplomats and security officials in recent months expressed harsh criticism of the settlers' behavior.

If the violence continues, the sources believe, Israel will suffer a severe blow to its image in Europe, and its bargaining position for any diplomatic activity with the Palestinians will likely be harmed. Defense Minister Ehud Barak also recently expressed concerns that the violence in the West Bank could harm Israel internationally.

Meanwhile, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer told Haaretz over the weekend that the security establishment's policy toward illegal construction in the West Bank has become firmer in recent months.

"They criticize us for inaction, but it's enough to look at what happened during that period: the evacuation of the House of Contention, the Federman Farm in Hebron, and the caravans in the Yad Yair outpost near Ramallah. We've also stopped every attempt to create new outposts in the West Bank. Things have certainly changed," he said.

At Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also lashed out at those participating in the violence, joining other Israeli figures in calling the attacks a "pogrom."

"We are the children of a people whose historic ethos is built on the memory of pogroms," Olmert said during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. "The sight of Jews firing at innocent Palestinians has no other name than a pogrom," he said.

"I am ashamed that Jews could do such a thing. I have asked the defense minister and other relevant individuals to do all it takes, with all the strength needed and in any place controlled by the State of Israel, in order to stop this phenomenon," he added.

"I have turned to the appropriate individuals in order to assure that the law-enforcement authorities will take aggressive and sharp action to bring those responsible to justice."