Settlers torch mosque in Burqa, Ramallah district

04:00 Dec 15 2011 Burqa

RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Jewish settlers on Thursday torched a village mosque near Ramallah and sprayed racist graffiti in Hebrew on its walls, witnesses said.

The Al-Nour Mosque in Burqa was still burning when villagers arrived for morning prayers, locals said, adding that the fire had spread to the first and second floors and caused extensive damage.

"Around four in the morning when we arrived to pray the morning prayer we saw the smoke and they wrote in Hebrew on the Mosque. The settlers are attacking us to terrify the villagers, but we are strong," village council head Abu Mohammed told Reuters TV.

A Reuters video showed damages to the mosque's carpet as well as Hebrew graffiti reading: "War".

The attack comes a day after Jewish extremists torched a 13th century mosque in Jerusalem, spraying "Death to the Arabs" and "Muhammad is a pig" on the building.

Despite a string of violent attacks by settlers, including a rampage on an army base, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected a recommendation to classify the Jewish extremists as terrorists.

Settlers frequently desecrate mosques and Muslim cemeteries and destroy Palestinian olive trees and cars. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio on Wednesday settler violence was terrorism.

"In terms of their conduct, there is no doubt that this is the conduct of terrorists: terrorism, albeit Jewish."

After the Jerusalem mosque attack, Israeli MP Mohammed Barake lashed out at his fellow parliamentarians for fanning the flames of racial hatred with a spate of draft legislation targeting Israel's Palestinian 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.

And 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 -- such attacks are often linked to government attempts to remove outposts.

The arson attack in Jerusalem occurred just 24 hours after settlers attacked troops and an army base in the northern West Bank in an incident that deeply angered Israel's leadership.

Several hours earlier, settlers also broke into a closed military zone along the Jordanian border.
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