Mosque Spray-painted With Hebrew Graffiti in West Bank Village; Palestinians Point to Settlers

Hebrew graffiti was discovered sprayed on and around a mosque in the West Bank village of Hawara yesterday, including a Star of David. Palestinians say the attack is the work of settlers who live nearby.

Palestinians reported two torched cars on the village's central road early yesterday, leading to the discovery of the graffiti. The road is part of a major north-south artery running through the West Bank which connects Jerusalem to Samaria.

A small village mosque, used only the weekend, had the word "Muhammad" sprayed in Hebrew and a Star of David. Haaretz also found graffiti with the Jewish prayer "Praise be onto him for not making me a gentile."

Forensic experts and IDF and civil administration forces that reached the scene were working on scrubbing off the graffiti yesterday.

Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the head of the civil administration, informed the Palestinians the matter was being seriously investigated, in a bid to ease tensions.

The village's mayor, Samer Ouda, told Haaretz he hopes the perpetrators will be caught swiftly so that the peace in the village can be maintained. The Shin Bet Security Service took testimony from an eyewitness who said the perpetrators were in a white Subaru station wagon carrying four passengers.

Kamal Odeh, a Hawara resident and representative of the Palestinian Fatah party, said it was the second time settlers had attacked the village this week. They torched one car and opened fire on a shop in Hawara on Monday, he said.

"The situation is very tense," said Odeh, 40. "There is real anger."

A number of settlers live in hilltop enclaves in the area, whom the Palestinians say have stepped up attacks.

The incident is the latest in a string of violent acts in the area recently. A resident of nearby Yitzhar was seriously injured recently when Palestinians stoned his car, leaving him with permanent neurological damage. One other person was injured in the attack.

In December, arsonists attacked a mosque in the village of Yasuf. Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors settlement activities in the Nablus governorate, said the rate of settler attacks had increased in the first quarter of this year compared with 2009.

The Israeli authorities have launched investigations into at least two other attacks on Muslim sites in the Nablus area since December. They could not immediately say whether either probe had resulted in charges being brought against suspects.

The Shin Bet arrested some suspects in the Yasuf arson but they were released from custody, and no decision has been rendered on whether to press charges.