Two people suffered minor smoke inhalation trying to control a fire in a church on the Sea of Galilee early Thursday morning. Arson is suspected in the fire, which broke out at the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha. Anti-Christian graffiti in Hebrew was also found at the site.
The church is revered as the location where Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. At the entrance, the words “May the false gods be eliminated”, taken from a Hebrew prayer, were found written in Hebrew.
Twelve volunteers were in the church at the time and worked to control the flames. Two of them were treated in local hospitals for minor smoke inhalation and later released.
Firefighters were called to the scene shortly before 4:00 a.m., Haaretz noted, where they worked to bring the fire, started on the roof, under control. Little damage was done to the sanctuary itself, but some damage was caused to offices, a storage room of books and an event hall.
The church is run by the Catholic Benedictine Order, and is best known for its fifth-century mosaics, recently restored.
“If in this case Jewish zealots are fingered, then, first of all, they clearly don’t represent all the Jews. They’re criminals who should be in prison and not walking around freely,” he stated.
“If they think this is how they can help themselves and strengthen their own beliefs then I just want to say it only damages their beliefs and damages their justice, and the justification for their being here in this land.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan denounced the attack, calling it an “act of lowly cowardice which I fiercely condemn.” According to Haaretz, he ordered district police to make this case a top priority. “We will not let anyone disrupt the coexistence between religions and ethnicities in Israel. Harming the principle of tolerance between religions is a blow to the most crucial values in Israel, and we will show zero tolerance for act like these.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely also spoke out against the incident. “I condemn this act in the strongest possible terms. The State of Israel respects the freedom of worship of all religions and disapproves of any violation of it. I am confident that the police will make every effort to apprehend the perpetrators and to prevent such occurrences in the future.”
Chief Superintendent Ran Levi of the Tiberias Police force told Army Radio there are no suspects as of yet. “We are really at the beginning of the process and we still don’t have any leads,” he said.