Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said that the church torching is a heinous crime & an “attack on us all…Freedom of worship is one of Israel’s cornerstones,” the prime minister said. “Hatred & intolerance have no place in our society.”
A fire broke out Wednesday night at a major Catholic pilgrimage church on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in what police have determined was arson. Police were investigating whether the arson was a hate crime on the part of extremist Jews.
A member of the Roman Catholic Benedictine order, which manages the site, said one of the buildings within the compound was completely destroyed in the blaze but the church itself was not damaged.
Hebrew graffiti was found on another building within the complex, reading “Idols will be cast out” or destroyed. The text is part of a common Jewish prayer.
Two people who were in the compound at the time were treated for smoke inhalation, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, saying there was “a strong possibility” the fire was deliberate.
In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the “shocking” church torching is a heinous crime and an “attack on us all.”
“Freedom of worship is one of Israel’s cornerstones,” the prime minister said. “Hatred and intolerance have no place in our society.”
Netanyahu instructed Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service head, Yoram Cohen, to conduct an accelerated investigation into the incident.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called the head of the Benedictine order in Israel to express his concern over the incident at the site, which is expected to be closed over the next three days.
Rivlin called the incident a “terrible desecration of an ancient and holy place of prayer that threatens the fabric of our state.”
“There are people of all different faiths that live in Israel who want to live together in harmony, respect and solidarity. We are committed as a state and a society to protect the holy sites of all faiths,” he said.
Father Matthias said an external atrium was “totally destroyed” in the blaze.
“The church, thank God, is in good condition,” he told AFP. “We’re very happy that nothing happened to the church.”
Wadie Abu Nasser, an adviser to the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land, said the apparent arson attack would reverberate throughout the Christian world.
Israeli police said Thursday they had detained 16 youths from Jewish settlements.
“In an area near the church, 16 youths were detained for investigation in order to check their involvement in the incident before dawn,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement.
She said all 16 were from settlements in the West Bank, including 10 from Yitzhar, which is known as a bastion of extremists and where some residents have been involved in previous hate crimes.
All 16 youth were later released without charge. “All 16… were released, with no conditions attached, after being interviewed and giving statements,” Samri said.
One of Christianity’s holiest sites
The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes is considered as one of Christianity’s holiest sites in Israel. It was built in the fifth century. Modern restoration revealed and repaired intricate mosaic floors of the church.
Also in Tabha is the Church of St. Peter’s Primacy, where Jesus is said to have appeared to his disciples after the resurrection.
British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould said that “this was a disgusting act of disrespect at one of Christianity’s holiest sites. The British Government welcomes the determination of the Israeli authorities to bring those responsible to justice.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely condemned the incident: “The State of Israel respects the freedom of worship of all religions and disapproves of any violation of it.”
Interior Minister Gilad Erdan strongly condemned the torching: “It is a cowardly and vicious act. We will not let anyone undermine the religious coexistence. Interfaith tolerance is one of the vital values of the state of Israel and we will act with zero tolerance over acts like this.”
German ambassador to Israel Andreas Michaelis said in response to the torching: “I am appalled by the fire that broke at the church. Graffiti was sprayed on the walls. I strongly condemn the act and any form of violence against the representatives of religious institutions and the institutions themselves. We must make sure that these institutions will remain protected in Israel, the same way they are protected in Germany and in Europe.”
View original i24news publication at: http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/diplomacy-defense/75285-150618-israel-5th-century-church-set-on-fire-in-suspected-hate-crime