Ultra-Orthodox Jewish settlers on Monday set fire to a mosque near Nablus area in the northern West Bank, Palestinian Authority officials said.
Settlers broke into Al-Nurayn mosque in Qusra, south of Nablus, smashing windows before setting fire to used tires inside the building, locals told a Ma’an correspondent.
PA settlement affairs official Ghassan Doughlas confirmed the incident and urged the international Quartet — the US, EU, UN and Russia — to pressure Israel to stop such attacks.
"This is not the first time settlers attack mosques," he said, adding that it was the 25th attack on Muslim or Christian places of worship since 2010, and the second such attack in Nablus this year.
Sheik Nafith Samih, the Imam of the mosque, said Molotov cocktails had been thrown into the building.
"Worshipers arrived at the mosque around 4 a.m. and performed the dawn prayer before some worshipers started to shout, ‘the mosque has been torched.’
"We went down to the lower floor, where women usually pray and found that several tires were torched inside. We realized that it was settlers," the Imam said.
Head of Qusra council Hani Abu Reida says the village, home to 5,500 Palestinians, is surrounded by Israeli settlements and outposts and residents are regularly attacked by settlers. Last week settlers raided homes and shot a young man, he added.
An AFP correspondent said Hebrew graffiti on the outside walls of the mosque included insults against the Prophet Mohammed, a Star of David, and "Migron" — the name of a settlement outpost near Ramallah which was partially dismantled by Israeli police overnight.
The pre-dawn attack came as hundreds of police and soldiers entered Migron and dismantled three structures after those living there were evacuated, police said, adding that the move had been approved by court.
"Six settlers who tried to prevent the demolition were arrested after attacking the forces," spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak had ordered the three structures be taken down in June. In early August, the Supreme Court issued an identical order, although it gave the authorities until March 2012 to implement the decision.
Hardline settlers have adopted what they call a "price tag" policy under which they attack Palestinians and their property in response to Israeli government measures against settlements.
Israel considers settlement outposts built in the West Bank without government approval to be illegal, and often sends security personnel to demolish them. They usually consist of little more than a few trailers.
The international community considers all settlements built in the occupied West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, to be illegal.
Separately, witnesses said dozens of settlers gathered to throw rocks at Palestinian vehicles near Yitzhar settlement between Huwwara and Nablus on Monday morning.
Settler-related incidents resulting in Palestinian injuries and damage to property are up more than 50 percent this year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which documents violence in the Palestinian territories.
On Tuesday, the Israeli army confirmed it was training settlers in the West Bank to repel any violent protests in the territories when the Palestinians try to secure UN membership later this month.
The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the military had been training settlement security chiefs and their teams and giving them tear gas and stun grenades to equip them to handle any unrest which breaks out during the UN campaign.
Most settlers already have assault rifles or pistols.