BURQA, West Bank (Reuters) - Jewish settlers torched three Palestinian cars and scrawled graffiti on a mosque in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Thursday, in the latest incident in a rising trend of attacks, residents said.
Two months after Israeli and Palestinian negotiators revived stalled peace talks, the Palestinian government says incursions by hardline settlers are becoming more frequent.
The phrase “Zion’s redemption”, a Star of David and the name of an Israeli soldier who was killed last month in the West Bank were spray-painted on the wall of the local mosque-cum-primary school in the village of Burqa.
“It’s the fifth or sixth attack on our village...They do these things and leave, confident because they’re armed and they have the protection of the army,” Deputy Mayor Sayel Kanan told Reuters.
“They weren’t content to just move onto our lands and keep quiet, but they attack us and chase our farmers away.”
The mosque was partially set ablaze in 2011, in an incident that villagers blamed on settlers from the neighbouring outpost of Givat Assaf.
Settlers have attacked Palestinian communities 586 times so far this year, up from 370 in all of 2012, said Ghassan Daghlas, who tracks settler violence for the Palestinian Authority (PA).
David Ha‘ivri, a Jewish settler activist, did not dispute the villagers’ account of the latest incident but told Reuters that the settlers’ leadership “frowns on acts of violence and speaks out against such acts”.
“We can’t have full control over every individual in our community, just like anywhere else in the world,” he said. “We expect the police and security forces to have a special interest in seeing that this type of violence does not expand and that the people behind it are dealt with.”
In July, the Israeli Defence Ministry announced a crackdown on settler vandals, saying they were tantamount to terrorists and their attacks could fan sectarian violence.
Israel cites Biblical and historical claims to the West Bank, but the United Nations considers its settlements there illegal and most world powers say they are an obstacle to peace.
Israel has permitted the building of 120 settlements, but around 100 unauthorised outposts, considered illegal even under Israeli law, dot the West Bank.
The attacks on Palestinian property, along with Christian and Muslim holy sites, are meant to extract what the vandals call a “price tag” for occasional evictions from their wildcat outposts by the Israeli military.
On Wednesday afternoon, around 15 settlers pelted a school in another Palestinian village with stones, Palestinian officials said. Frightened teachers and students locked the doors and hid inside until the assailants left, the PA’s Daghlas said. The Israeli military said it arrested four suspects.
On Monday, branches were hacked off more than a dozen ancient olive trees in a third Palestinian village next to a settler outpost, witnesses told Reuters.
Despite the killing of three Israelis and 15 Palestinians in the West Bank this year, Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to intensify peace negotiations under American supervision.
The two sides renewed the talks in July after a three-year freeze brought on by disagreements over Jewish settlements.
Reporting By Noah Browning, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Trevelyan