Hate Crime Suspected in Galilee Church Arson
JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried an early morning arson attack Thursday on the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee.
"This morning's outrageous arson attack on a church is an attack on us all," Netanyahu said in a statement. "In Israel freedom of worship is one of our core values and is guaranteed under the law. Those responsible for this despicable crime will face the full force of the law. Hate and intolerance have no place in our society."
Netanyahu instructed the Head of Israel Security Agency Yoram Cohen to conduct a "full and speedy investigation" of the attack.
Levin told CBN News Israel pledged to rebuild the church.
"I think it is an awful thing. I ordered immediately that we would help the people of the church, to do everything that is needed to reconstruct it," he said. A representative of our ministry is on the ground there in the Galilee to see everything, in order to make sure that everything will be rebuilt immediately. I'm sure those extremists who did these things will be caught. And I can assure everyone that Israel is a place that welcomes everyone from every religion. As you can see here it may be the safest place in the world for tourists."
Police arrested 16 youth suspected of taking part in the attack. The Catholic Benedictine Order is in charge of the historic building, with its famous fifth-century mosaic of the loaves and the fishes. The church commemorates Jesus' feeding of the 5,000.
The fire, set early Thursday morning, caused significant damage to the roof, several offices, a community room and a storage room housing books. Two of the 12 volunteers at the church were treated for smoke inhalation at a hospital and later released.
The attackers scribbled "the worshippers of idols be destroyed" on a wall.
Chief Rabbi David Lau condemned the attack, calling the perpetrators "ignorant and violent cowards completely at odds with the values of Judaism and humanity."
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Israel is "repulsed by such actions" and she was confident police would track down the perpetrators.
Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom apologized personally and on behalf of the nation, expressing disgust at "the damage to freedom of religion" and saying the government would help with repairing the damage.