Vandals attack disused mosque in west Jerusalem

AFP , Wednesday 14 Dec 2011

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

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,  an AFP correspondent said.

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, saying police had also found graffiti on the walls and had 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, the correspondent said. But the attackers also broke pipes in the building, with around 10 cm (four inches) of water on the floor inside.

The 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," he said in a statement, with his spokesman Stephan Miller saying officials at the site were assessing the damage.

"Representatives of the municipality arrived at the mosque that was burned on Strauss Street and are currently removing the graffiti," he told AFP.

Among the words scrawled on the walls were "Mitzpeh Yitzhar" and "Ramat Gilad" -- two West Bank settlement outposts set up without government approval that are slated for demolition by the end of the month.

Price tag attacks are usually carried out by extreme rightwing elements in response to steps by the government to dismantle outposts or to carry out measures seen as harmful to the settlement enterprise.

The arson attack in Jerusalem occurred just 24 hours after 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.

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

Three more price tag attacks were also reported in the northern West Bank where Palestinian cars were torched in three separate villages near Nablus and Qalqilya, the Israeli military and Palestinian witnesses said.

In all three incidents, Hebrew-language graffiti was found at the scene, reading "price tag," "revenge" and "a gift from Yitzhar" -- an extremist settlement near Nablus, Palestinian sources said.
For the most part, "price tag" attacks have taken place in the West Bank, but there has been a growing number of attacks inside Israel in recent months following an arson at a mosque in Galilee in October, which sparked international condemnation.

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

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