Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Did Militant Israeli Settlers Burn Mosque near Bethlehem?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Did Militant Israeli Settlers Burn Mosque near Bethlehem?

Article excerpt

Many Israelis suspect militant Israeli settlers, seeking to incite religious violence and undermine peace negotiations, attacked a Palestinian mosque near Bethlehem.

Israel is worried that Jewish militants torched a West Bank mosque overnight Monday in a bid to undermine peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

A mosque in the Palestinian village of Beit Fajar, just south of Bethlehem, became the fourth in the last two years to be the target of an arson attempt, according to human rights workers. The attack is believed to be part of a campaign by vigilante settlers to ignite violence by attacking Muslim holy sites.

"Whoever did this is a terrorist in every sense of the word, and intended to hurt the chances for peace and dialogue with the Palestinians,'' said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a statement. "This was a shameful act that besmirched the State of Israel and its value."

Perpetrators of previous attacks against mosques have left behind in Hebrew graffiti the words "price tag," referring to a policy of using violence against Palestinians and Israeli security forces in retaliation for outpost evacuations and militant attacks on settlers.

The price tag campaign is seen by experts as an attempt by militant settlers to deter Israel from making concessions to Palestinians, either by evacuating illegal settler outposts or by temporarily halting settlement expansion in the West Bank. Militant settlers have rioted in Palestinian villages and uprooted crops belonging to Palestinian farmers.

The arson attack in Beit Faraj comes as Israel, the US and the Palestinians are trying to reach a compromise on a new freeze in settlement building to enable peace talks to continue.

Patriarch's Tomb

In 1994, Israeli Palestinian peace talks were disrupted after Baruch Goldstein, a New York-born born Jewish settler, walked in to a mosque in Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs and gunned down worshipers, killing 29. …

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