Ramallah, West Bank – Two houses of worship on the two sides of the Green Line, the boundary that existed before the 1967 war, were subject to suspected arson attacks overnight, as the Holy Land continued to sink deeper into political turmoil.
Just before dawn on November 12, a mosque in al-Mughayir village, north of Ramallah, was set alight. The head of the village council said Israeli settlers were behind it, citing frequent attacks that included an incident in 2012 where another mosque was torched.
“We woke up at 3:30am to find a fire had engulfed the entire ground floor of the mosque,” Faraj al-Nasan told Al Jazeera. “It is clear it was the settlers, and now the Israeli army is calling me to carry out an investigation.”
Nasan said “price-tag” graffiti was left behind on the walls of the mosque. This graffiti is the trademark of settlers carrying out attacks in the West Bank.
This came on the heels of another suspected attack on Tuesday night, when a firebomb was lobbed at an ancient synagogue that is not in use in Shefa ‘Amr, a predominantly Arab city north of Israel. Minor damages were reported.
Both attacks come a day after the Palestinian president warned Israel that its crackdown on Muslim worshippers and allowing right-wing Jewish groups into the Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif) would ignite a “religious war”.
“Israel’s leaders are making a huge mistake if they think they can now establish facts on the ground and divide prayer times at the Al-Aqsa Mosque as they did at al-Ibrahimi Mosque [in Hebron],” Mahmoud Abbas said during a memorial for the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
“By doing these things they are leading the region and the world into a devastating religious war,” Abbas added.
Some members of the Israeli Knesset have been calling for a right to pray at the esplanade – an issue that has exacerbated tensions.
But Israeli officials have repeatedly said they would not allow any changes at the holy site.
Speaking to a visiting delegation from the Jewish Federations of North America last night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country was fully committed to the status quo.
“Last week I spoke to King Abdullah of Jordan, and I reiterated Israel’s commitment to maintain the religious status quo on the Temple Mount,” Netanyahu said.
“I will continue to make every effort to restore calm, to restore quiet and security, so that all may enjoy the religious freedom guaranteed by Israeli law.”
But the situation on the ground tells a different story. Clashes continued in Israel, Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, where a 22-year-old Palestinian was shot dead on Tuesday in a refugee camp near Hebron.
In recent weeks, a series of knife and hit-and-run attacks claimed the lives of five Israelis – a soldier, a border policeman, a baby and two women.
There was also an attempted assassination of a right-wing advocate for the building of a Jewish “Third Temple” on the Noble Sanctuary.
Just last month, another mosque was torched in an apparent hate crime in Aqraba, a West Bank village. Racist graffiti, including the name of the nearby Israeli settlement of Tapuah, was spray-painted on the walls.
In recent days, the tyres of several Palestinian-owned cars were slashed in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Safafa. Spray-painted on a sidewalk close by were the words “No Arabs, no cars.”
Tensions have been mounting since July, when a Palestinian teen was burned alive by Israelis, in an apparent revenge for the murder of three Israeli teens near a West Bank settlement.
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At least 17 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed since then. This summer, Israel’s war on Gaza claimed the lives of more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 70 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
In the past two weeks, Israeli authorities detained 174 Palestinians, 58 percent of them from Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Prisoners Society, which monitors arrests, said the majority of Jerusalem’s detainees were children.
On Tuesday, the UN Secretary-General voiced concerns about “the upsurge in violence and killings over the past few days in Israel and the West Bank”.
“Violence only deepens distrust, while making more distant the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.
As clashes and attacks continued, the US Secretary of State was due to arrive in Amman to meet the Jordanian monarch to discuss tensions in the holy city and the regional fight against The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
According to presidential adviser Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Abbas was also scheduled to meet with Kerry in Amman, which has been instrumental in attempts to bring calm to Jerusalem.
Abbas’ visit comes a day after he reaffirmed plans to head to the UN Security Council this month to submit a draft resolution calling for an end to Israel’s 47-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by November 2016.
The Palestinian president also reiterated his intention to join several international organisations if a US veto was used.