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Mosque in Israel vandalized, set on fire

By Michal Zipppori and Marwah Jbara-Tibi CNN
October 5, 2011 -- Updated 1802 GMT (0202 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The mosque's imam says he arrived to find the building burned
  • Attackers left graffiti on the wall, including the word "revenge"
  • Israeli prime minister says the atack contradicts Israel's values
  • Residents and police clash after the attack

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Police stepped up security in northern Israel Monday after a fire at a mosque overnight in an apparent revenge attack.

Suspects set the mosque in the village of Tuba-Zangariyye on fire and left graffiti on its walls, police said.

The smell of smoke filled the area in the morning hours, said Sheik Fuad Shehade, the mosque's imam. He arrived to find the building burned, with charred copies of the Koran inside.

After the overnight attack, around 200 residents from the village gathered on the outskirts and started marching towards the neighboring Israeli town of Rosh Pina, an Israeli police spokesman said.

Residents blocked the road, hurled rocks at police and burned tires, police said. The police responded by firing tear gas.

Words written on the mosque's walls said "price tag," "revenge" and "Palmer."

Asher Palmer and his year-old son were killed 10 days ago when rocks thrown at their car near the city of Hebron caused it to turn over and crash, authorities said.

"Price tag" attack is a term frequently used by radical Israeli settlers to denote reprisal attacks against Palestinians in response to moves by the Israeli government to evacuate illegal West Bank outposts.

Lately "price tag" attacks have also targeted Israeli military forces and police stationed in the West Bank. It is rare for them to carry out attacks inside Israel.

Kamal Khatib of the Islamic Movement in northern Israel said the mosque attack showed the extremist atmosphere in the country. The burning of the mosque and the graffiti indicate that "Jewish hands" were behind the attack, he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office condemned the attack.

"The prime minister was furious when he saw the pictures and said that the attack contradicts the values of the state of Israel. Freedom of religion and freedom of worship are supreme values," said a statement released by the office.

Netanyahu said "the pictures are shocking and have no place in Israel," according to the statement.

Israeli parliamentarian Ahmed Tibi urged both sides not to get drawn into violence, which is what extremists want.

"The answer at the moment is to rebuild the mosque," he said.

Israeli police have set up an investigation team and collected evidence in the area, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

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