JERUSALEM - The Israeli army raided a top Palestinian university in the occupied West Bank overnight, seizing computer equipment and causing damage, the university said Monday.

‘A large number of soldiers came about 2:30 am (0030 GMT), blowing open the locks, breaking into three buildings and banning the university guards from approaching,’ Ghassan Khatib, vice president of Birzeit University, told AFP. The army seized computers, speakers and other electronic equipment used by the student council, he added. Located in Ramallah, the university is the best-known in the West Bank, the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967.

The university published photos showing rooms ransacked, including those reserved for the student council, on its Facebook page. The contents of cupboards were littered across the floor, with computers whose hard drives had been extracted strewn on the ground.

Islamists affiliated to Hamas, which rules the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, won the student council elections in the university's council last April. Al-Khatib called the raid a ‘violation of the university's campus and an interference in academic life,’ adding that it was contrary to international agreements on academic independence. The Israeli army also raided the university in June 2014.

The Israeli army confirmed the raid, saying soldiers seized ‘Hamas propaganda material’ as it constituted an ‘incitement to violence’. Since October 1, Israel and the Palestinian territories have been hit by a wave of anti-Israeli stabbing, shooting and car ramming attacks. Israel argues incitement has contributed to the violence and has closed at least three Palestinian radio stations over such allegations, while also increasing the number of raids.

Moreover, a fire at the office of an Israeli NGO that champions human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories led to suspicions of arson Monday, but was later attributed to a suspected electrical fault. The blaze extensively damaged the Jerusalem office of the group B'Tselem, though there were no injuries as the premises were empty at the time, a spokeswoman for the NGO said in a statement.

‘A fire broke out at B'Tselem's office in Jerusalem this evening. None of our staff were in the building,’ Sarit Michaeli said on Sunday night. Initial media reports suggested it could have been an arson attack at a time of tensions between rights activists and right-wing Israeli groups, but the fire department later told B'Tselem it was a suspected electrical fire.

‘The fire brigade made an official announcement to us and as far as we are concerned that is what we needed to hear,’ Michaeli told AFP Monday. ‘We are relieved and happy that this is what it was and are going to start cleaning up ASAP.’ She said the fire would not stop the organisation's work of documenting and exposing human rights abuses.

On Monday morning the building was sealed off, with forensic teams in white jumps suits carrying bags of evidence out of the offices. Windows were smashed along the right side of the building where B'Tselem's offices are located, while other areas appeared to have sustained little damage.

The NGO said they had not yet been given access to the building or know the extent of the damage to their archives. In recent weeks, tensions have soared between rights groups and right-wing Israelis who have mounted a campaign aimed at discrediting them. In the meantime, Vandals had desecrated the cemetery of the Catholic monastery of Beit Jamal, which is run by the Salesian order, in September 1981, said the statement.

The patriarchate urged ‘the police... and the Israeli authorities in general to invest every possible effort’ to bring to justice those responsible for this and past desecrations. ‘We do hope that more efforts be made to educate all inhabitants of the country to respect each other despite their different religious backgrounds,’ said the English language statement.

In April, vandals had smashed gravestones at a Maronite Christian cemetery in a village near Israel's northern border with Lebanon. In June, arsonists attacked the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee where many Christians believe Jesus fed 5,000 people in the miracle of the five loaves and two fish.

One building within the compound was totally destroyed in the blaze but the church itself was not damaged. Hebrew graffiti was scrawled on another building that read ‘idols will be cast out’ or destroyed -- part of a common Jewish prayer. Two suspected Jewish extremists were charged in connection with the arson and graffiti, and Israel said it would compensate church officials for the damage.