Jerusalem: A famous Catholic church in northern Israel was severely damaged early Thursday in a suspected arson attack by Jewish extremists. Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said a blaze broke out around 3.30 a.m. at the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee, Xinhua news agency reported. The fire caused extensive damage to an office for pilgrims, a meeting room and a souvenir shop, Rosenfeld said.
The church was built on the site of 4th and 5th century churches which commemorate what faithful Christians revere as Jesus’s miraculous feeding of five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. A Hebrew graffiti spray-painted on a wall of the church led police to suspect that the fire was deliberately instigated, Rosenfeld said. The graffiti was taken from a passage in the Jewish prayer book, reading “the false gods will be eliminated.” According to The Rabbis for Human Rights group, an Israeli rights watchdog, there have been 43 hate crime attacks against holy sites since 2009, including cemeteries, mosques, churches and monasteries, in Israel, the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The attacks were widely condemned across the political spectrum, however suspects are seldom apprehended and tried.