Ar­son­ists dam­age Is­rael church

Grafitti about erad­i­cat­ing ‘idols’ is painted on a wall; hate crime is sus­pected.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Bat­sheva So­bel­man So­bel­man is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

JERUSALEM — Fire dam­aged a land­mark Chris­tian site in Is­rael early Thurs­day in what po­lice sus­pect is the latest in a se­ries of hate crimes against non-Jewish tar­gets through­out the coun­try, draw­ing wide­spread con­dem­na­tion and in­ter­na­tional con­cern from Chris­tian groups.

Po­lice and fire­fight­ers called to the Church of the Mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, by the Sea of Galilee, doused the blaze, which started from the roof and dam­aged sev­eral rooms, in­clud­ing one used for book stor­age and the nuns’ of­fice.

A verse from the daily Jewish prayer wish­ing the erad­i­ca­tion of “idols” was spray-painted on a wall.

Two of the dozen vol­un­teers on the premises were hos­pi­tal­ized for smoke in­hala­tion, ac­cord­ing to Tiberias po­lice Chief Ran Levy, who told jour­nal­ists that of­fi­cers were in­ves­ti­gat­ing the “grave in­ci­dent.”

Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Yo­hanan Danino promised to “do ev­ery­thing ” to find the per­pe­tra­tors. A group of Jewish re­li­gious stu­dents from the West Bank hik­ing in the gen­eral area were taken in for ques­tion­ing but re­leased later in the day.

Author­i­ties said the small church com­mu­nity had just be­gun the day with prayers when the fire broke out at 4 a.m.

The church, which draws tourists from around the world, is in a mod­ern com­plex built over the site of a 4th cen­tury church that was re­built in the 5th cen­tury. It marks the site where Je­sus is said to have fed mul­ti­tudes with just a few fish and loaves of bread.

Con­dem­na­tion for the at­tack came from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum and from Jews and Arabs alike.

Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin spoke with Fa­ther Gre­gory Collins, head of the Benedictine or­der in Is­rael that runs the site.

“Such ter­ri­ble des­e­cra­tion of an an­cient and holy place of prayer is an at­tack on the very fab­ric of life in our coun­try,” said Rivlin, who em­pha­sized that Is­rael was ob­li­gated to pro­tect the sites holy to all faiths and con­veyed his sym­pa­thy to the com­mu­nity.

Ac­cord­ing to Tag Meir, an non­govern­men­tal agency ded­i­cated to com­bat­ing such acts, 43 churches and mosques have been des­e­crated since 2009.

“Des­e­crat­ing a church in Is­rael is as grave as vi­o­lat­ing a syn­a­gogue in Paris or War­saw,” the group wrote on Face­book.

Atef Safadi Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

A CHRIS­TIAN CLERIC in­spects the dam­age at the Church of the Mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, on the shore on the Sea of Galilee in Is­rael.

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