JERUSALEM, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Unknown vandals set fire to a mosque near Ramallah early Tuesday morning, damaging the structure, and sprayed Hebrew slogans against a pending evacuation at a disputed settlement neighborhood.
"At one o'clock we heard screaming from the people of the village and realized the mosque was on fire," Jab'a Mayor Abdul Karim Sharaf said, according to The Jerusalem Post. "More than three hundred people awoke and we managed to put it out."
"After that we saw the writing, racist writing," Sharaf said, adding that "this great injustice is clear to the world."
Slogans saying, "Ulpana war," "The war has started," and "Pay the price," alluded to the likely identity of the assailants as opponents of a planned eviction of 30 families from the Bet El settlement's Ulpana neighborhood by July 1.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau issued a statement soon after the discovery, condemning the attack.
"This was the work of intolerant, irresponsible lawbreakers. We will act quickly in order to bring them to justice," the statement read.
Hardcore pro-settlement activists, often so-called "hilltop youth," have committed scores of similar attacks against Palestinian, Israeli Arab, and Israeli army property, dubbing them "price tag" attacks, meant to exact a cost for the government's demolitions of settlement homes deemed illegal.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israel Police forces are collecting forensic evidence, and units are combing the area for suspects.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak called the incident "a deplorable act, which is aimed at harming the fabric of life in the area and distract the IDF and security forces from their mission. I have instructed the IDF to use all measures to apprehend the assailants. "
Settler umbrella group Yesha Council director Danny Dayan condemned the attack, according to the Ynet news site.
In recent days, activists against the evacuation distributed a booklet with suggestions of how to protest the pullout. The document calls on opponents who are ready to "risk being detained for one or two days" to enter nearby Arab villages in order to " turn the area into one of the most turbulent in the West Bank."
Protestors are exhorted to block roads, and swarm bases, as occurred in a similar incident at an IDF regional installation in December, asserting that "when the fight to stop the destruction begins at the entrance to the base instead of the community's gate, it has a much greater chance to succeed."
"We're going to defend ourselves," one of the hilltop youth told The Times of Israel. Others told the Maariv daily that their aim was to tie up security forces in quelling and dragging out the anti-evacuation operation, rather than focusing on removing the families themselves.
Special Report: Palestine-Israel Conflicts