Vandalism on Safed synagogues being probed as retaliation for mosque arson

Police are investigating vandalism on four synagogues in Safed as possible retaliation for a mosque arson in northern Israel.

The words “Death to Jews” were spray-painted on the synagogues and a car Tuesday night in the northern Israeli city.

The mosque arson took place on Oct. 2 in the Bedouin Arab town of Tuba Zanghariya. Two Arab cemeteries in Jaffa also were vandalized last week.

“This is an unusual phenomenon, which does not characterize the nature of the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Safed,” the city’s mayor, Ilan Shohat, told Haaretz. “Just as we condemn the desecration of Islamic holy sites, so we condemn despicable acts like this.”

Two suspects, men with ties to the West Bank, have been arrested in the mosque arson. The attack is being called a “price tag” attack, in which extremist settlers exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes and demolitions or for Palestinian attacks on Jews.

The mosque attack referenced the death of a West Bank resident who was killed in a rock attack on his car.

Second suspect arrested in mosque arson

A second suspect was arrested in connection with the burning of a mosque in a Bedouin-Arab town in northern Israel.

Few details have been released about the second suspect, who reportedly is a resident of the West Bank. He was scheduled to appear Monday in a Tel Aviv court for a hearing on extending his remand.

An 18-year old Jewish man from northern Israel was arrested hours after the Oct. 2 torching of the main mosque of the Upper Galilee town of Tuba Zanghariya. He reportedly studied at a West Bank yeshiva.

Both suspects are suspected of “direct involvement” in the arson attack, Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told news agencies.

State Department condemns West Bank mosque torching

The United States condemned the torching of a West Bank mosque.

“This attack is the latest of several such acts of violence against West Bank mosques. These incidents have served to undermine efforts to promote a comprehensive peace in the region. We call on the Israeli government to investigate this attack and bring the perpetrators to justice, and for calm from all parties,” said Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department.

Burning tires were rolled into the mosque in the Maghayer village near Ramallah on Tuesday, setting rugs in the building on fire, according to reports. The building sustained fire damage; no deaths or injuries were reported. Village officials blamed Jewish settlers for the attack, though no suspects have been named.

The mosque’s walls also were sprayed with graffiti that reportedly read “Alei Ayin”—the name of a nearby settlement outpost that was demolished last week by Israeli police. Other slogans spray-painted on the wall reportedly read “Price Tag” and “This is only the beginning.”

“Price tag” refers to the strategy extremist settlers have adopted to exact a price in attacks on Palestinians in retribution for settlement freezes or their attacks on Jews.

A joint Israeli police-military investigation has been launched into the incident.

The American Jewish Committee also condemned the attack.

“No house of worship, whatever the faith, should be so targeted and willfully damaged,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “We categorically condemn this attack on a mosque and hope the perpetrators will soon be found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There can be no excuse, no explanation, and no justification for such a brazen assault and desecration.”

Several West Bank mosques have been torched in the last year; most of the incidents were blamed on Jewish settlers.