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Palestinians Accuse Jewish Settlers of Torching West Bank Mosque

Palestinians pray inside a partially burned mosque in the West Bank village of Beit Fajjar, near Bethlehem, 04 Oct 2010

Palestinians in a West Bank village have accused hardline Jewish settlers of torching a mosque and spray painting it with insults in Hebrew. The incident took place early Monday in the village of Beit Fajjar near Bethlehem.

A local leader says the fire burned several Qurans and the mosque's carpet. Israeli police say they are investigating the case, but declined to say who they suspect may be behind it.

The attack comes at a time when the Middle East peace process is at risk over the question of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian leaders say direct talks mediated by the United States cannot resume until Israel stops building settlements. A 10-month Israeli freeze on settlement construction expired last week.

Israeli media reported Monday that Israeli lawmakers are pressuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reject a U.S. compromise that would extend the building moratorium for 60 days.

U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell has been meeting with both sides in the region in a bid to salvage the peace negotiations. Mitchell says both the Israelis and Palestinians have asked to continue indirect peace talks, so they can set up acceptable conditions for direct talks to resume.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.