A Palestinian mosque was torched and an Israeli synagogue damaged in separate arson attacks today and Tuesday night, as America's top diplomat heads to Jordan for talks on escalating violence in the region.
A blaze burnt through a mosque in the occupied West Bank village of Mughayer in the early hours of this morning, completely destroying the first floor before it could be extinguished, the village mayor Mayor Faraj al-Naasan told the Associated Press. Police and officials have confirmed the incident.
Al-Nasan blamed Jewish settlers for the attack, referring to previous assaults on Palestinian property. The perpetrators wrote anti-Palestinian graffiti in Hebrew on walls of the mosque, according to the Palestinian Ma'an news agency.
Footage apparently from the damaged mosque in the West Bank village of Mughayer, used by the Palestinian Ma'an news agency.
Meanwhile, Israeli police said attackers threw a petrol bomb at a synagogue in the majority Arab northern Israeli town of Shfaram, damaging it slightly.
The attacks come during a period of increased strain in Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Tensions were already high following the collapse of peace talks in April, the bloody Gaza war this summer, and new expansion of Jewish settlements. Yet they were further inflamed by a dispute over one of Jerusalem's holiest sites — called Noble Sanctuary by Muslims and Temple Mount by Jews — which is home to the al-Aqsa mosque and where Jewish temples once stood.
Israeli authorities have long banned Jews from praying there, but in recent weeks, hardline Israeli elements have stepped up campaigns to be allowed to do so. Palestinian leaders have accused Israel of attempting to alter current arrangements at the site, something Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others have denied.
Violent protests and counter-demonstrations erupted and in late October a Palestinian gunman shot and wounded an ultraconservative rabbi who had been promoting Jewish presence there. Israel responded by blocking all access to the area for the first time in 14 years.
Further attacks have followed. A number of Palestinians deliberately drove into Israeli pedestrians in recent weeks, leaving several people dead and injured. On Monday, an Israeli woman and an IDF soldier were killed and two other people injured in separate stabbing incidents.
Israeli troops also reportedly shot dead a Palestinian protester in Hebron on Tuesday while attempting to disperse a group of demonstrators. Then on Saturday police shot and killed Kheir a-Din Hamdan, a 22-year-old Arab-Israeli during an arrest in the town of Kafr Kana, seemingly as he was backing away from the officers.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has accused Israel of inflaming tensions and leading the region into a "religious war," adding that Palestinians would defend the Jerusalem site against Jewish extremists. Netanyahu responded by accusing Abbas of making matters worse.
US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Jordan on Wednesday to meet with the country's King Abdullah about the tensions, as well as the fight against Islamic State jihadists, the State Department said on Tuesday.
Jordan is the official custodian of the holy site and recalled its ambassador from Israel on November 5 after what it described as "violations" at the al-Aqsa mosque following clashes.
Netanyahu has vowed a tough response to the upswell in violence. On Tuesday he said that he would boost security and crackdown on protesters throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, including fining their parents.
The Israeli Prime Minister had previously said that he would use any means necessary to halt the unrest, including razing the homes of Arabs involved in violence.
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