Palestinian officials say Israeli settlers have torched a mosque in the occupied West Bank, amid growing religious tensions and violence.

The attack just before dawn on Wednesday, near the Jewish settlement of Shilo, came after separate knife attacks blamed on Palestinians killed a settler in the southern West Bank and an Israeli soldier in Tel Aviv on Monday.

All Jewish settlements built on occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law.

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"The settlers set fire to the whole of the first floor of the mosque" in Mughayer village near the West Bank city of Ramallah, a security official said.

A police investigation has been opened into the incident, officials said.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Faraj al-Naasan, mayor of Mughayer, also blamed Jewish settlers of the attack.  

Al Jazeera's Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from inside the destroyed mosque, described seeing religious books turned into ashes and windows being blown out.

"There an awful lot of anger in the community," he said.

A Molotov cocktail was thrown overnight at an ancient synagogue in the Arab town of Shfaram in Israel, causing minor damage, Israeli police said on Wednesday.

The structure is not currently used for worship.

'Disturbances in the area'

Micky Rosenfeld, the Israeli police spokesman, said police were deployed later on Wednesday near the entrance to Mughayir, but "disturbances in the area'' were preventing them from opening an investigation.

Rosenfeld did not elaborate on the extent of the disturbances but attacks such as the one in Mughayir frequently ignite violent protests.

 

The attack on the mosque comes as Israeli-Palestinian tensions remain high, mostly on account of competing claims to a holy site in Jerusalem's Old City.

The unrest has been prompted by Muslim fears of Jewish encroachment at the sacred site where al-Aqsa Mosque stands, a hilltop plateau known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

This in turn has caused strife in a region already on edge following the collapse of US-led peace talks, Israel's war last summer with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and new Israeli settlement construction plans in the occupied East Jerusalem.

The tensions at the shrines have frequently boiled over into violent demonstrations, though Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, has insisted that Israel has no plans to change the status quo at the Jerusalem holy sites.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Netanyahu traded accusations on Tuesday over the tensions, with Abbas saying that frequent visits to the site by Jewish worshippers are escalating clashes and accused Israel of leading the region towards a "religious war".

Netanyahu said Abbas was making matters worse and inflaming tempers.

[Photo: EPA]

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies