Man at site of mosque fire
A Palestinian man at the site of the fire at a mosque in Luban al-Sharqiya on May 4, 2010. Photo by AFP
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The Israeli defense establishment has learned that settler extremists in the West Bank intend to vandalize mosques to protest the destruction of outposts and official measures taken against fellow right-wing activists. The plans are part of the “price tag” policy, of exacting retribution for the arrest of certain settlers and the issuing of restraining orders against others.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority on Tuesday implicated settlers in the fire early Tuesday morning at a mosque in the Nablus-area village of Luban al-Sharqiya. Nablus Governor Jibril al-Bakri said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had ordered the rebuilding of the mosque, which reportedly suffered considerable damage, as soon as possible.

Upon first seeing the mosque in flames, residents believed it had been caused by an electrical short-circuit. A number of high-ranking PA and Fatah officials arrived at the scene immediately after the incident to show their solidarity with residents. One senior figure called the incident “a crime, abetted by the Israeli government.”

Efforts to determine the cause of the blaze continued throughout the day. Investigators at the scene did not find graffiti ‏(the usual hallmark of settler attacks‏), but they did find evidence of a break-in that led them to suspect arson.

Spate of arson attacks

Investigators expressed doubt about the possibility that the fire was caused by an electrical short-circuit, as the part of the mosque where the fire broke out is undergoing renovations and its electricity had been disconnected.

Israeli defense officials are increasingly concerned over the series of mosque burnings in the past six months. In December a mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf was set on fire. The Shin Bet security service briefly detained several suspects, and it is not clear whether they will be charged.

In April, stars of David were spray-painted on a mosque in the village of Hawara. No suspects were detained in the incident.