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Vandals attack disused mosque in west Jerusalem

15 december 2011, 15:26
0
The vandalized walls of a disused Mosque in a central neighborhood of Jerusalem. ©AFP
The vandalized walls of a disused Mosque in a central neighborhood of Jerusalem. ©AFP
Unknown attackers on Wednesday tried to torch a disused mosque in Jerusalem and scrawled anti-Arab slogans on the walls in an apparent "price tag" vengeance attack, an AFP correspondent said.

Slogans insulting the Prophet Mohammed and Arabs along with graffiti reading "price tag" were spray-painted on the exterior walls of the building in central Jerusalem, prompting a swift condemnation from Muslim groups.

The attack was the latest in a slew of "price tag" incidents -- revenge attacks by Jewish extremists which generally target Palestinians and Arabs, although they have also been directed at the army and leftwing Israeli activists.

Multiple slogans were daubed on the exterior walls but the perpetrators did not manage to get into the building, which has a minaret but is being used as a storage facility for the city council, a municipal worker at the site said.

Israel police said they had opened an investigation into the incident, which took place just off Jaffa Street, west Jerusalem's main shopping artery.

"During the night, there was an attempt to set fire to a disused mosque in the city centre," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP. "Police also found graffiti on the walls. The police have opened an investigation."

Some of the exterior walls were burnt and there was a strong smell of petrol, although it appeared the fire had not caught.

But the attackers also broke pipes in the building, with around 10 cm (four inches) of water on the floor inside, the correspondent said.

The arson attack was swiftly condemned by the Al Aqsa Foundation, an offshoot of Israel's Islamic movement.

"We condemn the torching of the mosque and hold Israel fully responsible for this terrible crime and all its aggressions against our holy sites and that it is enacting racist laws and not doing anything against those who commit these crimes," the group said in a statement.

It said the Okasha mosque had been closed since 1948 when Israel was established, and that the Israeli authorities had refused the foundation's requests to renovate it.

The vandalism was also condemned by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. "We must show zero tolerance toward violence in any shape or form and continue to maintain coexistence in the city," news website Ynet quoted him as saying.

The incident came just 24 hours after a group of extremist settlers attacked an army base in the northern West Bank and sabotaged vehicles there, in an attack which was angrily denounced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials.

Settlers also broke into a closed military zone along the Jordanian border and staged a protest on Monday night.

The Israeli army on Wednesday said that Palestinian cars were torched overnight in the northern West Bank, near the city of Nablus and the town of Qalqilya.

Hebrew-language graffiti found at both scenes bore the hallmark of a "price tag" attack, a spokesman said, although he declined to elaborate.

Israeli officials have been quick to condemn such attacks but the perpetrators are very rarely arrested.

For the most part, "price tag" attacks target Palestinians although there has been a growing number of attacks on Arab Israelis in recent months following an arson at a mosque in a Bedouin village in Galilee in September, which sparked international condemnation.

Such attacks are usually carried out in response to steps by the government to dismantle unauthorised settlement outposts.

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