An arson attempt was made on a former mosque in downtown Jerusalem overnight as the Israeli government weighed new steps to deal with an outbreak of violence by activists in the West Bank settler movement.
Vandals set fire to the former mosque and spray-painted it with graffiti, according to a police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld. The graffiti included the expression “price tag,” which has been used as a motto by West Bank settlement activists in several vandalism incidents against mosques and army property over the past year, warning of retaliation if the government evacuates unauthorized settlement outposts.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that he has instructed security and criminal justice officials to prepare an emergency plan to halt such acts, saying the violence “has crossed all lines.”
A group of settler activists threw stones at Israeli security forces at a West Bank junction overnight and one person was arrested, an army spokeswoman said, speaking anonymously in accordance with military regulation.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said today that among the steps being considered is officially designating those who carry out such attacks as terrorists.
“I’m convinced we must take every step this requires, including the use of emergency regulations, restraining orders and administrative detention, and deal with them the same way we deal with criminal organizations and terrorist groups,” Barak told Army Radio today.
Six suspects from the Jerusalem area were detained for questioning by police for involvement in the mosque vandalism, Rosenfeld said. Two police vehicles were damaged by a crowd in the capital’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood while the suspects were detained, he added.
Settler activists yesterday vandalized an army base, threw stones at an officer and clashed with security forces after entering a closed military zone on the Jordanian border.
The activists were spurred on by reports that Israel is planning to evacuate several unauthorized settler outposts in the West Bank in the near future, the Haaretz daily reported yesterday.
Netanyahu refused last year to renew a 10-month freeze on s ettlement construction in the West Bank, leading to the collapse of peace talks with the Palestinians. Palestinian leaders have said that Israel must stop all construction for negotiations to resume.