Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians continued into Wednesday as reports emerged of suspected arson attacks on a mosque near the West Bank city of Ramallah and an ancient synagogue in Israel’s northern Galilee region.
The mayor of the Palestinian village of Mughayer blamed Jewish settlers for the overnight fire at the mosque, extensively damaging its first floor and partially damaging the second, though he offered no concrete evidence to back up his claim.
"Only Jewish settlers would do this," Mayor Faraj al-Naasan told the Associated Press, saying Israeli settlers had attacked another mosque in the village two years ago.
Israeli police said law enforcement officers had been initially unable to enter the village and collect evidence from the scene due to Palestinian “disturbances,” Israel’s Arutz Sheva reported.
Israel’s Ynet News reported that the fire began at around 3 a.m. and was discovered by Muslim worshippers arriving a short time later for pre-dawn prayers.
A representative of Jewish settler communities in the area, Samaria Regional Council Head Gershon Mesika, responded to the mayor’s accusation that settlers set the fire.
"The person who did this act is a pyromaniac who deserves to be condemned,” Mesika said. “However, it is important to note that as yet, no Jews have ever been arrested for torching a mosque, which calls for further investigation into the incident."
Worshippers told the independent Palestinian news agency Maan that they saw smoke and flames emerging from the first floor at about 4:30 a.m.
Also early Wednesday morning, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the ancient synagogue of Shfaram, an Israeli-Arab town in the Galilee. The structure was lightly damaged, Arutz Sheva reported.
The burning of the houses of worship came following weeks of violence in the area, which included intentional Palestinian hit-and-run attacks, deadly stabbings and the shooting at point-blank range of a well-known rabbi who advocates for Jews to pray on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest site for Muslims.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned Tuesday that Israel was allowing Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem to be “contaminated” and accused the Israeli government of sparking a “devastating religious war” in the region.
There have been calls from some right-wing and religious Israeli politicians to allow Jews to pray visibly on the Temple Mount, which current Israeli regulations do not permit. Muslims can freely worship.
The Israeli government has said it is not planning on changing what is known as the status quo on the Temple Mount.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Abbas of inciting to more violence around the issue of Jerusalem.
Watch video of the scene following the fire at the mosque: