Palestinians officials blamed Israeli settlers for an arson attack on a mosque in a West Bank village early Wednesday, hours after a Molotov cocktail was thrown at an ancient synagogue in a predominantly Palestinian town in Israel — incidents that underscore the tit-for-tat nature of recent violence.
The mosque fire broke out before dawn in the village of Mughayer, north of Ramallah, said village Mayor Faraj al-Naasan. He added that the efforts of residents and Palestinian fire services to quell the blaze succeeded only in saving the building's second floor.
"Only Jewish settlers would do this," al-Naasan said, citing a previous incident at another mosque in the village two years ago and other attacks against vehicles and olive groves there.
Earlier, Israeli police said a Molotov cocktail was thrown at an ancient synagogue in the Israeli town of Shfaram late on Tuesday night, causing light damage.
The latest attacks come amid days of Israeli-Palestinian clashes and ongoing tension over competing claims to a holy site in Jerusalem's Old City.
Visits by Jewish worshippers to the site — known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — have raised concern among Palestinians that Israel is trying to take over the site. This, in turn, has fanned strife in a region already on edge following the collapse of U.S.-led peace talks, Israel's bloody war last summer in the Gaza Strip, and new Israeli settlement construction plans in east Jerusalem.
Tensions at the shrines have frequently boiled over into violent demonstrations, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel has no plan to change the status quo at the Jerusalem holy sites.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu traded barbs Tuesday, with Abbas saying that frequent visits to the site by Jewish worshippers was fueling the latest clashes. He accused Israel of leading the region toward a "religious war." The Israeli leader said Abbas was making matters worse and inflaming tempers.
Abbas' adviser, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said the Palestinian leader was scheduled to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the Jordanian capital of Amman on Thursday, and would emphasize his concerns about alleged Israeli attempts to change the status quo at the Jerusalem holy site.
On Wednesday, Abbas was to meet Jordan's King Abdullah II. Jordan, which acts as custodian to the Jerusalem holy site, recalled its ambassador in protest after an Israeli police raid last week over a clash at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque.
On Wednesday, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police were deployed near the entrance to Mughayer but that "disturbances in the area" were preventing them from opening an investigation. Rosenfeld did not elaborate on the extent of the disturbances but attacks such as the one in Mughayer frequently ignite violent protests.
Also Wednesday, the Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din published data on what it described as failure by the Israeli police in the West Bank to seriously investigate Palestinian complaints of Israeli attacks against Palestinians and their property.
The organization said that of the 1,045 cases opened by the police on such attacks between 2005 and 2014, only 7.4 percent had produced indictments of Israeli civilians. The police were not immediately available to comment on the report.
Meanwhile, an Israeli border policeman was arrested in connection with the death of a Palestinian demonstrator near Ramallah in May, Rosenfeld said. Israeli security forces said they used only rubber bullets to disperse the protesters, but Israeli media have reported that the border policeman may have used live fire during the incident.
Nadim Nuwara, 17, and Muhammad Abu Thahr, 16, were killed during a May 15 demonstration in which Palestinians hurled stones at Israeli forces. Video from security cameras suggested they were shot despite posing no immediate threat to the troops.
Rosenfeld said the policeman was arrested in connection with Nuwara's death, but not Abu Thahr's, because an autopsy was only carried out on Nuwara's body. All other details of the investigation were under a gag order, he said.
At a remand hearing in a Jerusalem court on Wednesday, Benny Katz, the suspect's attorney, told reporters his client says he fired only rubber bullets during the protest and denies using live ammunition.
Al Jazeera and wire services