Fire damage to mosque in Al-Mughayir, in what turned out to be an electrical fault
Fire damage to mosque in Al-Mughayir, in what turned out to be an electrical fault STR/Flash 90

A Palestinian Arab mosque was set alight in a village near Bethlehem Tuesday, with anti-Arab slogans in Hebrew sprayed on a nearby wall, Palestinian witnesses said.

The fire was discovered in the mosque in al-Jabaa village in Judea, south of Jerusalem, at around 4:00 am (0200 GMT). Villagers managed to put it out but there was some damage to the building, the witnesses added.

On a nearby wall, the perpetrators had sprayed the word "revenge" and other slogans in Hebrew alongside a Star of David, with witnesses saying it was believed to be the work of Jewish extremists.

The village is located 10 kilometers (six miles) southwest of Bethlehem, close to Gush Etzion.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri confirmed a complaint had been filed by Palestinians about the torching of a mosque in al-Jabaa and said the police unit for nationalistic crime would investigate.

The Palestinian Authority foreign ministry said the attack was tantamount to "an official declaration of religious war," the official WAFA news agency reported.

"This new attack is a sign of the mounting violent extremism within Israeli society," it said.

If confirmed, the attack and accompanying graffiti bore the hallmarks of a so-called "price tag" attack - a euphemism for nationalistically motivated hate crime by Jewish extremists which generally targets Arabs, usually in revenge for terrorist attacks or demolitions of Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria.

However, in at least some cases such accusations have turned out to be false, and even staged.

Last December, residents of the Arab village of Al-Mughayir near Ramallah alleged that "Jewish settlers" had torched a mosque - although they initially prevented any police or military investigators from reaching the site to collect evidence.

Soon after, it was revealed that the "arson" was in fact the result of an electrical fault.

However it is notable that in that case questions over the accusations were raised from the very start, as no "price tag" graffiti of any kind was found at the site.

AFP contributed to this report.