RAMALLAH, West Bank – Vandals set fire to a mosque in the West Bank on Thursday and defaced it with Hebrew graffiti a day after a similar arson attack on a Jerusalem mosque. Suspicion fell on Jewish extremists widely assumed to be behind stepped-up violence against Palestinians and the Israeli military.
The governor of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, Laila Ghanam, said arsonists doused the mosque in the village of Burqa with gasoline, then set it on fire.
The Hebrew words for "war" and "Mitzpe Yitzhar" were painted in red on a wall, and the Israeli military said carpets and chairs were burned.
Mitzpe Yitzhar is an unauthorized Jewish settlement outpost in the West Bank where Israeli security forces demolished two structures early Thursday.
On Wednesday, suspected extremists torched an unused mosque in Jerusalem.
In recent years, settlers have attacked Palestinian and Israeli military targets in retaliation for Israeli government operations they see as overly sympathetic to Palestinians, like the demolition of unauthorized settlement housing.
"The government of Israel unequivocally condemns these acts of vigilante violence," government spokesman Mark Regev said. "We will act aggressively to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice."
The increasing frequency of the attacks, the sparse number of arrests and paucity of indictments have generated allegations that the Israeli government isn't acting forcefully enough against extremists after two years of violence.
On Wednesday, after an assault on an Israeli military base, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved measures to clamp down on extremists, including giving soldiers the authority to make arrests and to ban extremists from contentious areas.