Netanyahu pledges to apprehend and punish church arsonists

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday met with the head of the Shin Bet internal security agency and pledged to capture and bring to justice those responsible for Wednesday night’s arson attack at the Church of the Multiplication.

In Christian tradition the church is thought to be the site of Jesus’ miracle of the fishes and loaves and it houses rare, ancient mosaics. The fire damaged the souvenir shop and offices, but not the church itself. However, offensive Hebrew graffiti was found at the site, indicating that the attack was perpetrated by Jewish extremists.

The arson was roundly condemned by Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum. President Reuven Rivlin spoke with Father Gregory Collins, head of the Benedictine Order, which administers the site and called the incident “an attack on the very fabric of life in our country.” Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom described the attack as “unthinkable and unacceptable. Israel as a democratic state is disgusted by the damage to freedom of religion.” Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said that she was “repulsed” by such actions. Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi called the arson “completely at odds with the values of Judaism and humanity.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “despicable crime” and emphasised that “hate and intolerance have no place in our society.” He met with Shin Bet head Yoram Cohen and ordered a swift and robust investigation. He said, “Freedom of worship in Israel is a cornerstone of Israeli society and is fully protected by the law” and vowed “We will bring to justice those responsible for this heinous crime.”

Police said that they had arrested 16 youths yesterday in connection with the attack. All are from a West Bank settlement with a history of extremist activity. However, they were later released. In recent years, there have been several cases of churches vandalised in Israel by Jewish extremists. Israeli officials have termed such attacks “terrorism” and pledged to deal with them as such.

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