Palestinians say Israeli settlers in the West Bank burnt prayer rugs and Quran copies in early morning attack.
|Israeli soldiers and Palestinians clashed after local demonstrators were stopped from reaching a protest site [AFP]|
Palestinians in a West Bank town have received a group of Jewish Rabbis who brought copies of the Quran to replace those burnt and damaged in what locals say was an attack on a mosque by Jewish settlers.
Nidal Thawabte, the mayor of Beit Fajjar, told Al Jazeera that the Rabbis were received by the town as men of God and not as settlers because they did not identify themselves as settlers.
“A group of Jewish Rabbis came on Tuesday afternoon with a box of 25 to 35 Qurans. While the cost and the extent of the damage was much more than just a few copies of the Quran, we accepted their gesture as an act of goodwill,” Kamel Hammash, president of the municipality council, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
“I believe that the Rabbis were genuine in their approach to make up for what was done,” Hammash said, but stressed that while the gesture was important, it was in no way equivalent to the burning and vandalising of the mosque.
According to witnesses, parts of the Al-Anbiya mosque were set ablaze by five attackers who came from the nearby settlement of Gosh Etzion early on Monday morning. In addition to spraying anti-Arab graffiti on the wall of the mosque, the arsonists also damaged prayer rugs and copies of the Quran.
“I believe that they [the Rabbis] are offering to help repair the major damage on the mosque, but I am not sure whether this will happen,” Hammash said.
Rabbi Menachem Froman, who went to Beit Fajjar to show solidarity with the Palestinians, said: “This visit is to say that although there are people who oppose peace, he who opposes peace is opposed to God.”
Froman also joined other Jews and Palestinians for a demonstration at a highway junction in the West Bank, displaying banners saying: “We all want to live in peace.”
Fewer than 20 people took part in the protest after the Israeli military prevented Palestinians from Beit Fajjar from getting to the site, resulting in clashes with Palestinians youths from the town. The soldiers fired tear gas at the demonstrators who were throwing stones but no injuries were reported.
The US state department, the Palestinian Authority and Israeli politicians have all condemned Monday’s torching of the mosque. Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, ordered the military “to act with determination” to bring the attackers to justice.
“The Israeli police … have opened a very widespread investigation; the other security forces in Israel will be a part of [it], as well as Palestinian information that has some contribution to this investigation,” Avital Leibovitch, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said.
‘Impunity the norm’
However, Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna said that the Israeli announcement was met with “a degree of scepticism”.
Monday’s attack was the fourth on a West Bank mosque in the past year. In May, Palestinians accused settlers of burning a mosque in the village of Libban al-Sharqia. Israel said the blaze was probably caused by a spark during building work.
No charges have been brought for any of the previous incidents.
“In that period of time, there has not been a single culprit found, for any of these attacks or actions,” Hanna said.
Human rights groups say the Israeli government does not take the attacks seriously enough.
A report by Amnesty International, the London-based rights group, found that “impunity remains the norm” for settlers accused of vandalism and physical attacks on Palestinians.