BBC News | 4 October 2010 | 11:19 GMT
More than 430,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, alongside 2.5 million Palestinians
20,000 settlers live in the Golan Heights
Settlements and the area they take up cover 40% of the West Bank
There are about 100 settlements not authorised by the Israeli government in the West Bank
Israel is investigating Palestinian reports that a mosque in the West Bank has been set alight by Jewish settlers. Palestinian officials say settlers set fire to the mosque in Beit Fajjar, near the town of Bethlehem. They blame residents of a nearby settlement because the arsonists reportedly scrawled Hebrew graffiti on one of the mosque’s walls.
The assault comes as Palestinian-Israeli peace talks have faltered over the issue of settlements. Israel has occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 1967, settling close to 500,000 Jews in more than 100 settlements. Some 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank. Jewish settlements are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
A spokesperson for the Israeli military said it was taking the burning of the mosque very seriously. "The IDF as well as the other security forces in Israel see the incident this morning in a very severe manner," army spokesperson Avital Leibowitz told reporters in Tel Aviv. "We are doing the utmost in order to reach those law-breakers." Previous Israeli investigations of mosque attacks have failed to produce results.
In April, a mosque was vandalised with Hebrew graffiti, cars were burnt and olive trees uprooted in the village of Hawara, near the Yitzhar settlement. And in May, a mosque in the Palestinian village of Lubban al-Sharqiya, near Nablus, was gutted by fire, which also destroyed holy books. No charges were brought against anyone in either case.
‘Price tag policy’
Some hard-line settlers advocate a "price tag" policy under which they attack Palestinians in retaliation for any Israeli government measure they see as threatening Jewish settlements. The Palestinian leadership has said it will not continue peace talks with Israel unless a freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank resumes, after building started again last week.
Israel refused to extend a 10-month partial ban on settlement building in the West Bank, which expired last Sunday. The Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians resumed in September after a break of nearly two years.