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ISRAEL: Mosque set ablaze in upper Galilee

October 3, 2011 |  5:43 am

Mosque set ablaze in nothern Israel
REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Jewish extremists are suspected of torching a mosque in a northern Israeli town early Monday, the latest in a string of anti-Arab attacks that have enraged Palestinians and alarmed Israeli security officials.

After setting the mosque in the Bedouin village of Tuba Zangaria on fire, vandals spray-painted the words "revenge" and "price tag" on the walls, officials said.

Similar messages have been left in other violent incidents in the West Bank, in which attackers have burned mosques, cars belonging to Palestinians and olive trees. They've also vandalized an Israeli army base and the Jerusalem home of an Israeli anti-settlement activist.

Extremist groups say such attacks are in retaliation for efforts to dismantle Jewish settlements in the West Bank and for the Palestinians’ campaign to win statehood.

Palestinian and Israeli officials have condemned the attacks as acts of terrorism.

Israel's Shin Bet domestic-security agency warned recently that such groups are escalating their activity and evolving from small vigilante squads into homegrown organized terror cells.

Residents of the Arab village attacked Monday protested against the arson, and scores of youths clashed briefly with Israeli police, who had been deployed to prevent Arab Israelis from confronting nearby Jewish towns.

Arab leaders said they suspect the attack was inspired by statements from rabbis in the nearby ultra-Orthodox town of Safed, where religious leaders have been accused of inciting violence and discrimination against Arab Israelis, who make up about 20% of Israel's population. Most recently, Safed rabbis urged Jews not to rent property to Arabs.

Safed Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu told Israel Radio that the attack was "inappropriate," but he would not condemn it and said it has not been proved that Jewish extremists were responsible.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to catch the vandals. "The images are shocking and have no place in the State of Israel," he said in a statement.

Police said they've arrested some suspects, but gave no details.

Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ahmed Tibi blamed the government for failing to stem the violence after it began several weeks ago in the West Bank.

"Failure to stop such a cancerous growth in the occupied territories results in it spreading into Israel," he said on Israel Radio.

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-- Edmund Sanders

Photo: A resident stands inside a burned mosque in the Bedouin village of Tuba Zangaria. Credit: Ancho Gosh / Reuters

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