Police unsure of motives behind burned West Bank mosque

Officials say incident does not match previous ‘price tag’ attacks, though they are unable to conduct full investigation

Palestinians inspect a mosque that was torched in the village of al-Mughayir, in the West Bank near the Jewish settlement of Shilo, on November 12, 2014. (photo credit: STR/Flash90)
Palestinians inspect a mosque that was torched in the village of al-Mughayir, in the West Bank near the Jewish settlement of Shilo, on November 12, 2014. (photo credit: STR/Flash90)

A mosque burning Tuesday night near Ramallah may not have been the result of attack by extremist Jews, Israeli Police assessed Wednesday evening.

On Wednesday morning Palestinian officials reported a mosque, in the Palestinian town of al-Mughayir near Ramallah, was burned overnight. The first floor of the mosque was set on fire, causing extensive damage to the site.

Contrary to accusations by residents of the village, the incident did not coincide with previous “price tag” attack patterns, leading police to believe the mosque was not burned for ideological reasons, Channel 10 reported.

According to an unnamed police source, the incident occurred in the center of the village, unlike previous extremist attacks.

The source also added that no racist graffiti was found at the scene, conflicting earlier Palestinian news reports.

Israeli Police were unable to entirely rule out the option that this was a nationalist attack, as Palestinian authorities refused their entry to the village and did not allow them to conduct a wide-scale investigation.

Earlier, Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police were deployed near the entrance to Mughayir but that “disturbances in the area” were preventing them from opening an investigation.

Rosenfeld did not elaborate on the extent of the disturbances but attacks such as the one in Mughayir frequently ignite violent protests.

The mayor of the village said he had no doubt that Jewish settlers were responsible, citing a previous settler attack against another mosque in the village two years ago and frequent settler attacks against vehicles and olive groves there.

“Only Jewish settlers would do this,” al-Naasan said.

The reports, which accused settlers of committing the arson, indicated that villagers noticed fire and smoke coming from the mosque at around 3:30 a.m, according to Israel Radio.

The mayor said efforts of residents and Palestinian fire services to quell the blaze succeeded only in saving the building’s second floor.

Head of the Shomron Regional Council Gershon Mesika condemned the blaze, saying whoever set the fire was a “pyromaniac,” according to Ynet. He qualified, however, that thus far “no Jew has ever been caught setting fire to a mosque.”

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Pictures published by the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency showed severely damaged carpets and walls in the mosque.

The Palestinians have filed a complaint with the West Bank’s IDF civil authority, and security forces, including the Shin Bet security service, were investigating the incident, according to Israeli news outlet Ynet.

In Shfaram, an Arab town in northern Israel, a synagogue dating from the mid-18th century was attacked with a Molotov cocktail, causing light damage but no injuries, Israel Radio reported.

The synagogue was renovated last May in an effort to show interfaith understanding.

The attacks come on the heels of several suspected “price tag” hate crimes on Tuesday, a day after two separate terrorist attacks on Israelis in Tel Aviv and the West Bank left two dead.

Jerusalem residents reported Tuesday morning that vandals had damaged several cars and spray-painted “No Arabs, no cars” on the sidewalk nearby in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa.

The graffiti was in reference to several recent attacks in which Palestinian drivers plowed their vehicles into crowds of people.

Anger has spread among Israelis in the wake of a spike in terror attacks over the last several weeks, including two separate stabbing incidents on Monday.

A protest late Monday night against the spate of attacks turned violent, with demonstrators blocking a road at in central Jerusalem, and an Arab taxi driver being attacked by rock throwers.

Police said Tuesday they had arrested four 13-year-old boys who admitted to throwing the rocks at the taxi driver.

AFP contributed to this report. 

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