JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli settlers torched a West Bank mosque in an apparent revenge attack on Wednesday, Palestinian officials said, as the US top diplomat headed to Jordan to discuss the spiralling violence.
Months of unrest have escalated in recent days, spreading from annexed east Jerusalem to the occupied West Bank and Arab communities across Israel, and raising fears of a new Palestinian uprising.
In a televised address late on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered a raft of additional security measures nationwide to tackle escalating Arab protests.
The pre-dawn arson attack on a mosque near the Jewish settlement of Shilo came after separate Palestinian knife attacks on Monday killed a settler in the southern Western Bank and an Israeli soldier in Tel Aviv.
“The settlers set fire to the whole of the first floor of the mosque” in Al-Mughayir village near the West Bank city of Ramallah, a security official said. Police confirmed the incident and opened an investigation.
Also overnight, a molotov cocktail was thrown at an ancient synagogue in the Arab Israeli town of Shfaram, causing minor damage, police said. The structure is not currently used for worship. The attack on the mosque came with Palestinian anger already running high after Israeli troops shot dead a protester in the southern West Bank on Tuesday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry was headed to neighbouring Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II that were expected to focus on the worsening unrest as well as the US-led campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
Jordan, whose role as custodian of Muslim holy sites in east Jerusalem is enshrined in its 1994 peace treaty with Israel, has expressed mounting concern over Israel’s actions at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound.