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Jewish settlers torch mosque in West Bank

Racist phrases against Arabs and Muslims sprayed on mosque's walls
Palestinian Imam Ibrahim Abu Luha shows the damage at a mosque that was torched overnight on 25 February, 2015 in the West Bank village of al-Jaba (AFP)

A group of Jewish settlers have torched a mosque near the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem and sprayed racist phrases against Arabs and Muslims on its walls, a Palestinian official said Wednesday.

"The settlers stormed Al-Jabaa village at 4am and torched Al-Huda mosque," head of the village's council Noman Hemdan told the Anadolu Agency.

"The fire caused considerable damage to the mosque before it was put out by the local residents," he said. "The settlers also sprayed racist phrases against Arabs and Muslims, including 'death to Arabs!' on the mosque's walls," Hemdan added.

Several attacks, called the "price tag," by Jewish settlers targeting Muslim houses of worship have recently been reported in areas across Israel and the occupied West Bank.

"Price tag" refers to a strategy adopted by Jewish settlers of attacking Palestinians and their property in retaliation for perceived threats to Israeli settlement expansion. Such attacks have recently increased in frequency in Israel and the West Bank.

While the incidents have drawn public condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian officials say such incidents often transpire as Israeli troops and police look on.

An Israeli soldier looks at graffiti on wall on 25 February, 2015 a day after it was covered with anti-Arab slogans in Hebrew near a mosque that was set alight in the West Bank village of al-Jaba (AFP)

The Palestinian foreign ministry said the attack was tantamount to "an official declaration of religious war," the official WAFA news agency reported.

"This new attack is a sign of the mounting violent extremism within Israeli society," it said.

It went on to assert that the attack was part of an "official, premeditated Israeli plan to fuel sectarianism and promote the misconception that what is going on in Palestine is a religious war with the aim of concealing the main cause of the problem: Israel's occupation of Palestinian land."

The ministry held the Israeli government responsible for the "racist, fascist attack," calling on the international community to protect the Palestinian people from Israeli aggression.

Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri dubbed the attack "a form of Israeli terrorism."

Abu Zuhri blamed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish "settler gangs" for the attack, calling for Arab-Muslim action against Israel's practice of "targeting" Palestinian houses of worship.