Israeli Forces Still Searching for Suspects Behind West Bank Mosque Attack

Perpetrators sprayed 'Price Tag - Alei Ayin' outside mosque entrance in arson attack Tuesday, indicating intention to avenge recent building demolition in unauthorized West Bank outpost Alei Ayin.

The Israeli police in the West Bank have no leads on Tuesday's arson attack on a mosque in the Palestinian village of Mughayar north of Ramallah. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has ordered the security forces to use all means possible to find those responsible.

During the attack, outside the mosque's main entrance, the words "Price Tag - Alei Ayin," were sprayed - a possible indication that the attack was revenge against Palestinians for Israel's demolition last week of a structure in the unauthorized West Bank Jewish outpost of Alei Ayin.

Ramallah arson mosque - David Bachar - Tues 7 june 2011
David Bachar

Security officials say the attack was a warning to the IDF and police against the evacuation of further unauthorized outposts and to intimidate Palestinian villagers.

On the day of the attack, the Border Police demolished a second structure at Alei Ayin, with similar operations expected to follow.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also strongly condemned the attack, saying Israel is committed to freedom of religion and will act forcefully against those that infringe upon it. The Yesha Council of West Bank Jewish settlements condemned the arson in particularly strong terms.

Council Chairman Danny Dayan said, however, that his organization's ability to influence the situation through its leadership and education is seriously hampered by Israeli government policy, which he noted has included a halt to construction in the settlements - since rescinded - and demolition activity. "When that is government policy, the extremist margins flourish," Dayan said.

A main difficulty facing investigators in the mosque attack is the conflicting picture provided by villagers. Some residents have said a man opened the mosque's doors early Tuesday morning on his way to pray and discovered the fire. Other eyewitnesses say they saw the vehicle used by the perpetrators as it left the scene, while police were also told of suspicious activity as early as 1 A.M.

One way or another, the arsonists broke a window at the mosque and threw a burning tire through it that damaged prayer rugs.

The mosque was one of two in the village of 3,000 residents and is in the village's center, meaning the arsonists had to navigate Mughayar's narrow alleys. After the arson, merchants closed their shops and Palestinian notables came to survey the scene.

The Palestinian Authority's Ramallah district governor, Leila Ghanem, promised that the PA would pay for repairs to the mosque. She said the arson would not have been possible without support by the Israeli army.

Mughayar is in the Shiloh Valley near a number of unauthorized Jewish outposts. There has been a history of friction between Mughayar residents and Jews in the area.

In July 2009, a Mughayar villager shot and wounded an outpost resident. Under questioning, he said he had carried out the shooting in retaliation for damage to his fields. The IDF is concerned about similar revenge attacks following the arson at the mosque and has beefed up its troops in the area.

The Israel Police and Shin Bet security service have failed to find those responsible for damage to three other mosques in the West Bank since December 2009. In recent years they have encountered difficulties as well in obtaining statements from suspects.

As a result, other than cases in which suspects have been caught red-handed or where forensic evidence was found linking criminal acts to suspects, the perpetrators of so-called price-tag crimes of revenge have rarely been brought to justice.