Text size

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger on Monday visited the West Bank village of Yasuf, where days earlier a mosque was torched allegedly at the hand of settlers angry over the 10-month construction freeze.

"I came here to expression my revulsion at this wretched act of burning a place holy to the Muslim people," Metzger told the residents after he was escorted into the village under the protection of the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian police. "This is how the Holocaust began, the tragedy of the Jewish people of Europe."

On their way out of the village, the rabbi and his escorts were pelted by rocks from protesters. The troops fired two shots in the air and a tear gas grenade.

On Sunday, a delegation of Israelis from the West Bank settlement bloc of Gush Etzion brought copies of the Koran to villagers to replace those destroyed in the attack.

The group, led by peace activist Rabbi Menachem Froman, met the village elders at a nearby checkpoint after being held up for several hours by the IDF.

"Our going to the village can bring about a resolution of the conflict," said Froman, of the southern West Bank settlement of Tekoa.

"The people who spread hate in the region are those who invented the method of 'price tag.' They should be cast out of here," Froman said, refering to the term used by right-wing activists for actions opposing anti-settlement moves by the government.

"We want to create new conditions between Jews and Arabs. Arson in a mosque is an attempt to sow hatred between Jews and Arabs. Jewish law also prohibits damaging a holy place." Froman said.

At the end of the meeting, Froman presented a Koran to the village leader, Munir, who thanked the delegation for "coming here to identify with us against violence."

Security officials, meanwhile, say they fear that the torching of the mosque near Nablus on Friday could lead to reprisal attacks by Palestinians on Jews.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered Israel's security services to find the people behind the arson, which Jewish extremists are suspected of perpetrating.