Arrests made in arson attack on historic church

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel Police made several arrests in connection with last month’s arson attack on a historic church in northern Israel.

The arrests took place Sunday morning, and the investigation is continuing, police spokesman MIcky Rosenfeld announced.

A fire believed to have been an arson attack on June 18 struck the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, at the site where Jesus is believed to have fed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish.

Graffiti reading “False idols will be smashed” and “pagans” were found on the walls of the church, which is built on the site of a fifth-century church and contains restored mosaic floors from the time period.

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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, which is believed to have been nationalist in nature.

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

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

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