Amid US efforts to save the recently launched Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the Palestinian Authority fears Jewish settlers are trying to ignite the region by targeting mosques and olive groves.
A mosque in the Palestinian village of Beit Fajar, north of the West Bank city of Hebron, was set on fire Monday morning, and according to Palestinian sources, graffiti blaspheming the Prophet Mohammad was sprayed on several of the building's walls.
Later Monday, dozens of settlers gathered near Burin and demanded that the mosque in the Palestinian village be destroyed. They claimed the minaret is used to follow the settlers' movement and therefore endangers them.
"The demonstration in Burin is indicative of the settlers' plan to ignite the region in order to sabotage the negotiations," said Palestinian official Ghassan Daglas.
According to him, the Palestinians have identified increased activity on the part of the settlers whenever there seems to be a breakthrough in the peace talks.
"The settler harassments increase whenever there is some sort of diplomatic development or when the American envoy and other representatives visit the region in an attempt to jumpstart the (peace) process," he said.
"The settlers' strength is growing, and their numbers make it impossible for any leadership in Israel to ignore them and their positions; therefore, their influence on the diplomatic process is evident."
Daglas said the West Bank's Jews are purposely targeting agricultural fields and olive groves, which he says are "sacred to the Palestinians," as well as mosques, which are "sacred to Muslims."
"They torched the mosques in Yasouf and Luban, and this morning they set the mosque in Beit Fajar on fire. This shows they are trying to divert the conflict to its religious aspect," he said.
The Palestinian government condemned the torching and warned of "continued terrorist activity by the settlers against the Palestinian people."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, "Whoever committed this act is a terrorist whose only goal is to hurt the chances for peace with the Palestinians."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called to "apprehend the criminals as soon as possible and put them on trial."
Attila Somfalvi contributed to the report
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