Thursday 22 March 2018

Three suspects arrested in Israel after arson at site of Jesus 'miracle'

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, ordered Shin Bet, the domestic intelligence service, to find the culprits (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

Robert Tait Jerusalem

Israeli investigators have arrested three suspects accused of involvement in a fire badly damaging a Christian shrine that marks the site of one of Jesus's most storied miracles.

Last month's arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha on the shores of the Sea of Galilee triggered a major investigation after Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, ordered Shin Bet, the domestic intelligence service, to find the culprits.

The attack threatened to strain Israel's ties with the Vatican. The church, thought to be on the site where Jesus is said to have fed 5,000 people from five loaves and two fish, is an important attraction for Christian pilgrims.

The suspects were due to appear yesterday in a remand hearing at Nazareth magistrates' court.

They were not identified after the authorities slapped a gagging order restricting publicity on the case - a measure normally reserved for highly sensitive security matters.

Honenu, a group known to specialise in defending settlers accused of crimes, was reported to be acting as the suspects' legal representative.

Last month's blaze was the latest in a string of attacks against Christian and Muslim shrines in Israel, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in recent years. Part of the church complex was gutted and the attackers spray-painted graffiti in Hebrew reading: "And false idols will be smashed", taken from a Jewish prayer.

Mr Netanyahu condemned it as "an attack on all of us", adding: "We will exercise the full weight of the law with those responsible."

Irish Independent

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