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Netanyahu Condemns Monastery Attack as Settler Link Suggested

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned an attack on a monastery as “a criminal act,” after Israeli police said the assailants may have been retaliating for the eviction of Jewish settlers from a West Bank outpost.

Vandals painted the walls of the Latrun monastery with anti-Christian graffiti and set fire to the front door early today, said Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman. The graffiti also made reference to the Migron outpost, which was cleared of settlers by police two days ago, he said.

“There’s a strong possibility that the two incidents are linked,” Rosenfeld said in a telephone interview. “We have a special investigation team looking into it.” The monastery is halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israeli authorities have clashed in recent years with settlers behind a campaign called “price tag,” which has defaced mosques in the West Bank and threatened Israeli peace campaigners. The settlers reject Palestinian claims to the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War.

Netanyahu spoke to Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch about the search for those behind the monastery attack and said those responsible “must receive grave punishment.”

“Freedom of religion and freedom of worship are the most basic principles of the state of Israel,” the prime minister said in a text message sent to journalists.

“We hold the Israeli government fully responsible,” Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian peace negotiator, said in an e-mailed statement. “The settlers’ actions amount to terrorism.”

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