OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Jewish extremists Wednesday tried to torch an old mosque in Occupied Jerusalem, as Israel reopened a ramp leading to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, whose closure sparked Muslim anger.
The overnight attack on the disused mosque in downtown West Jerusalem saw unknown attackers try and set the building alight and daub its exterior walls with racist anti-Arab slogans written in Hebrew.
It was the latest in a slew of so-called “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 Israelis.
The attack targeted the Nebi Akasha Mosque, which dates back to the 13th century and had not been used as a place of worship since Israel’s creation in 1948. The city council currently uses the building as a storage facility.
“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 an investigation had been opened into the attack which took place just off Jaffa Street, west Jerusalem’s main shopping artery.
The attack was swiftly condemned by the Al-Aqsa Foundation, an offshoot of Israel’s Islamic Movement, which said it held Israel “fully responsible for this terrible crime” and for not acting against the perpetrators.
Arab Israeli MP Mohammad Barake also lashed out at his fellow parliamentarians for fanning the flames of racial hatred with a spate of draft legislation targeting Israel’s Arab minority.
“Responsibility for the mosque burning does not only lie with the gang of fascists who carried it out, but also with some of the scumbags among the MPs and ministers,” he said in a statement.
“Those MPs should not pretend they are shocked when the draft laws they back become a raging fire that devours mosques,” he said.
Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO which fights against the manipulation of archaeological sites for political gain, said the attack had damaged an important aspect of local heritage.
“The destruction of the antiquities, in this case probably by Israelis, is part of the process of erasure of ‘the other’ – of everything that doesn’t suit the extremist and one-dimensional ideology of certain Israeli groups,” it said in a statement.
Among the words scrawled on the mosque’s walls were the names of two settlement outposts slated for demolition by the end of the month.
Overnight, there were three more price tag attacks in the northern West Bank where Palestinian cars were torched in three separate villages and Hebrew graffiti found nearby, the Israeli military and Palestinian witnesses said.
The arson attack in Jerusalem occurred just 24 hours after settlers attacked troops and an army base in the northern West Bank in an attack which has deeply angered Israel’s leadership.
Several hours earlier, settlers also broke into a closed military zone along the Jordanian border.
In the past 10 days, detectives have arrested eight people in connection with recent price tag attacks, including six minors and a soldier.
Jerusalem police Wednesday also detained six Jewish men from a religious neighborhood on suspicion of involvement in recent violence and vandalism against Arabs, a spokeswoman told AFP.
The suspects are all settlers who were barred from returning to the West Bank several years ago by military order, Luba Samri told AFP, without giving details of their age or identity.
The six men were not believed to be connected to the overnight attack on the mosque, nor to several other “price tag” attacks earlier this week.
Meanwhile, Israel reopened Wednesday a controversial wooden access ramp to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem just 48 hours after it was closed on safety grounds in a move which had sparked Muslim anger.