Associated Press
December 11, 2009 - 1:00am

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday said that Israel must rein in settlers' provocative actions, after assailants vandalized a mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf, torching furniture and spraying Nazi slogans in Hebrew on the premises.

"The torching of the mosque in Yasuf is a despicable crime, and the settlers are behaving with brutality," said Abbas, who called the act a violation of religious freedom.

"The settlers' unruly behavior must be stopped," Abbas added after meeting on Friday with United Arab List-Ta'al chairman Ahmed Tibi in Amman.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Friday condemned the vandalization of the West Bank mosque, allegedly at the hands of of settlers protesting Israel's temporary freeze on settlement construction.

"This is an extremist act geared toward harming the government's efforts to advance the political process for the sake of Israel's future," said Barak.

Investigation into the incident points to the likelihood that settlers are behind the attack, police said, but the vandals have not yet been caught.

Settler extremists have recently attacked Palestinians and their property in response to Israeli government moves to curb settlement construction. These protesters have dubbed the attacks the "price tag" policy.

Israel Defense Forces officers in the West Bank have expressed concerned that settlers may escalate their acts of opposition to the temporary freeze on settlement construction by targeting the Palestinian population.

The assailants entered the village of Yasuf before dawn Friday, according to Israel Police and Munir Abushi, the Palestinian governor of the district where the village is located.

They burned prayer carpets and a book stand with Muslim holy texts, and left graffiti on the floor reading, "Price tag - greetings from Effi". Effi is a Hebrew name.

The vandals escaped. The IDF said it views the incident gravely and is investigating along with the police.

After villagers discovered the damage, they briefly threw stones at Israeli forces that entered Yasuf, Abushi said. He said two villagers were hurt in the skirmish.

Abushi met with Israeli police and army officers and expressed his dismay over repeated settler attacks.

"Israeli security forces have done little to protect Palestinian civilians from the settlers," he said.

In an apparent attempt to placate settlers over the construction slowdown, Netanyahu has proposed including tens of thousands of settlers, including many living in isolated settlements deep in the West Bank, in a government program that bestows monetary incentives on residents and businesses.

The move has drawn criticism from Netanyahu's coalition partner, the
Labor Party, which has indicated it will vote against the move at a Cabinet meeting next week.


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