JERUSALEM - A West Bank mosque was burned and vandalized early Tuesday, with graffiti warning in Hebrew of a “war’’ over the impending evacuation of the small, disputed Jewish settlement of Ulpana.
Police officials said it was the fourth attack on a mosque in the last 18 months and part of an uptick in such episodes.
The Ulpana evacuation has been seen as a key test for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, and he immediately condemned the attack as “the work of intolerant, irresponsible lawbreakers,’’ adding, “We will act quickly in order to bring them to justice.’’
Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, said several suspects entered Jabaa, a Palestinian village of 4,200 about 5 miles from both Jerusalem and Ramallah, early Tuesday, then broke a large window in the mosque and set a fire that burned several yards of a carpet and wall. Outside the building, the slogan “Ulpana war’’ was written on the right side of the window, and “price tag’’ on the left, suggesting the attack was in exchange for the coming evacuation.
Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered the evacuation by July 1 of five buildings in Ulpana, a neighborhood of the large settlement of Bet El. The buildings that apparently sit on Palestinian-owned land house 30 families.
As the deadline approaches, it has become a flash point in the larger debate over settlements, with some right-wing Parliament members threatening to leave Netanyahu’s coalition if he allows the evacuation to proceed and some activists threatening to riot and even risk death to prevent it.
Last-minute negotiations were under way Tuesday between the government and leaders of Bet El in hopes of securing a peaceful evacuation rather than a confrontation with police, who had a huge training operation in the desert Monday in preparation.