QUSRA, Palestinian Territories — Vandals set fire to a mosque in the northern West Bank early on Monday in an apparent retaliatory attack after police dismantled three homes in a Jewish settlement.
The mosque in Qusra village, some 15 kilometres (12 miles) southeast of Nablus, was damaged when two tyres were set alight on the ground floor of the building, which was being used as a storage area, local residents said, blaming Jewish settlers.
An AFP correspondent said Hebrew graffiti on the outside walls included insults against the Prophet Mohammed, a Star of David, and "Migron" -- the name of the settlement outpost near Ramallah, which was partially dismantled by police overnight.
The attack was very similar to another arson attack on a mosque in a nearby village which took place in early June, just days after police had demolished an outpost called Alei Ayin, sparking fierce clashes with settlers.
Monday's pre-dawn attack came as hundreds of police and soldiers entered Migron and dismantled three structures after those living there were evacuated, police said, adding that the move had been approved by a court.
"Six settlers who tried to prevent the demolition were arrested after attacking the forces," spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak had ordered the three structures be taken down in June. In early August, the Supreme Court issued an identical order, although it gave the authorities until March 2012 to implement the decision.
Hardline settlers have adopted what they call a "price tag" policy under which they attack Palestinians and their property in response to Israeli government measures against settlements.
Danny Danon, an MP with the ruling right-wing Likud party and vocal proponent of the settlement movement, described Barak's decision to dismantle Migron as "disastrous."
"There is absolutely no good reason to demolish the homes of these law-abiding citizens," he said in a press statement, describing it as "sending a message of weakness" to the Palestinians.
During the upcoming Jewish holidays, thousands of Likud activists would "visit the pioneers of Migron," in a mass show of support, he said.
Israel considers settlement outposts built in the West Bank without government approval to be illegal, and often sends security personnel to demolish them. They usually consist of little more than a few trailers.
The international community considers all settlements built in the occupied West Bank, including annexed Arab east Jerusalem, to be illegal.