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Israeli says it arrested Jewish suspects in church attack

The attack badly damaged the church and provoked global condemnation. [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 July, 2015

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Israel on Sunday said that several Jewish extremists, suspected of being behind an arson attack on a Christian holy site, have been arrested.

Several Jewish suspects over an arson attack last month at a revered Christian shrine have been arrested, Israeli police said Sunday.

The arson had sparked widespread condemnation and concern from Christians globally, with the site visited by some 5,000 people each day. 

"Several Jewish suspects have been arrested for the burning of the church and the Nazareth court has decided to extend their detention for the purposes of the investigation," a spokeswoman said.

Police did not provide a number, but a right wing, ultra-nationalist group said three young Jews had been arrested. 

Another police spokesman said the arrests followed an undercover investigation also involving the Shin Bet internal security agency.

The Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha on the shores of Sea of Galilee, or Lake Tiberias, [Arabic Bohayrat Tabareyya], is where many Christians believe Jesus fed the 5,000 in the miracle of the five loaves and two fish.

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.

There has been a long line of attacks on Christian and Muslim holy places in Israel and the West Bank in which the perpetrators are believed to have been Jewish extremists.

Tabgha was subjected to a previous attack in April 2014 in which church officials said a group of Jewish teenagers had damaged crosses and assaulted clergy.

In the immediate wake of last month's attack, police had detained 16 young Jewish settlers, but they were later released without charge.

Ten of those initially detained were from Yitzhar, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank which is known as a bastion of extremists and where some residents have been involved in previous hate crimes.

In April, vandals smashed gravestones at a Maronite Christian cemetery near Israel's northern border with Lebanon.  

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