Police say makeshift West Bank synagogue torched by arsonists
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Police say makeshift West Bank synagogue torched by arsonists

Netanyahu calls on world to condemn burning of holy books just as it condemns graffiti and desecration of mosques

The remains of Torah scrolls set alight at the Givat Sorek outpost in the West Bank on February 6, 2016 (Courtesy: Karmei Tzur security department)
The remains of Torah scrolls set alight at the Givat Sorek outpost in the West Bank on February 6, 2016 (Courtesy: Karmei Tzur security department)

An investigative team of police officers and firefighters on Sunday concluded that a fire that consumed a makeshift synagogue in a West Bank outpost on Friday was the result of arson.

According to an initial investigation, suspected attackers set fire to holy Jewish texts at an outpost next to the Karmei Tzur settlement in the West Bank.

There were no injuries in the incident, but the books were badly damaged and the tent that housed them and served as a synagogue went up in flames.

According to Karmei Tzur residents, the suspected arsonists piled up the holy books and set them alight.

Police said that the footprints of the suspects were found leading to a Palestinian village near the town of Halhul, the Ynet news site reported.

Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would “do everything to find [the perpetrators] and bring them to justice.”

“We are in the midst of a hard battle between those who seek coexistence and peace and those who want war and blood,” Netanyahu said, saying the fire was the result of Palestinian incitement.

He also called on the world to condemn the arson, pointing to international outrage following Jewish extremist attacks on Muslim and Christian holy places.

“I expect all those who justifiably condemn every desecration of a mosque or graffiti or fire in mosques – I expect them to condemn with the same outrage and same condemnation this criminal act,” Netanyahu said.

The tent, which was not being used at the time, overlooks the site where the bodies of three Israeli teens, Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, were found after they had been abducted and murdered by Hamas-affiliated Palestinian terrorists in June 2014.

“The sight of the burned Torah scrolls in the Etzion bloc is heartrending,” President Reuven Rivlin said Saturday.

“The assault on our people’s holy items hurts all the more when it is done at the place that commemorates Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali, who were murdered by a cruel hand… I am certain and confident that the security forces will bring the perpetrators to justice swiftly,” Rivlin said.

Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped on June 12, 2014 and whose bodies were found on June 30, 2014. (photo credit: IDF/AP)
Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped on June 12, 2014 and whose bodies were found on June 30, 2014. (photo credit: IDF/AP)

The Anti-Defamation League, a US group that battles anti-Semitism worldwide, called the incident “an act of anti-Semitism.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that “the images of burnt holy books in a synagogue are taken straight out of the darkest nights of our people’s history.”

The suspected attack comes amid over four months of near-daily Palestinian assaults, mainly stabbings, against Israeli civilians and security personnel that have killed 27 Israelis. Some 155 Palestinians, the majority of whom Israel says were attackers, were killed by Israeli fire during that time. The rest died in clashes with Israeli security forces.

Israel says the violence is fueled by a campaign of Palestinian incitement. Palestinians say it stems from frustration at decades of occupation.

In a statement, the media office of the Etzion regional council noted the short distance from the tent to the Karmei Tzur settlement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on January 31, 2016. (AFP/Pool/Amir Cohen)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on January 31, 2016. (AFP/Pool/Amir Cohen)

“The vandals piled up the books and set them on fire. There is a great deal of frustration in Karmei Tzur. This isn’t the first time that terrorists burned the place…. We must not forget that fewer than 100 meters separate the hill [where the arson took place] and the homes [of Karmei Tzur]. The attack in the former is a dangerous prelude for the future,” the statement read.

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