Arrests made in suspected arson attack on historic Israeli church


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Several arrests were made in connection with an alleged arson attack on a historic church in northern Israel.

The arrests took place on Sunday morning, Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, adding that the investigation into the June 18 incident was continuing.

Details of the arrests, including the number of suspects and their home communities, are under a gag order.  The Shin Bet security service said in a statement that the arrests were part of “a covert, strenuous and professional investigation that began right after the church was torched.”

Police initially detained 16 youths, reportedly all Jewish residents of the West Bank who were hiking in the area on the evening before the attack on the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. The attack was believed to have been nationalist in nature.

Along with the fire that struck the church, located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, graffiti reading “False idols will be smashed” and “pagans” were found on its walls. The site is where Jesus is believed to have fed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish.

Built on the site of a fifth-century church, the church contains restored mosaic floors from the time period.

The attack was roundly condemned in Israel and around the world.

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