Tel Aviv police investigators believe the murder last month of the head of Jaffa's Orthodox Church Association was prompted by a dispute over assets connected to the organization.

Gabriel Cadis, 51, was stabbed to death on January 6, after a service at St. George's Church.

Witnesses said the attacker was wearing a Santa Claus costume.

Six members of a Jaffa clan were arrested within two days after the murder. Three men are being held as suspects.

Police officials said they think Cadis was murdered after he demanded that Talal Abu Mana, a real estate developer and a former director of the church organization, return to the association a seafront apartment valued at NIS 10 million whose ownership was in contention.

Planned during parade

A few months ago Abu Mana learned, after meeting Cadis in court, that Cadis had hired private investigators in a bid to gather information that would help in restoring the association's control of the property.

According to police detectives, Abu Mana conspired with two relatives - Fuad Abu Mana, 25, and Tawfiq Dalu, 24 - to murder Cadis.

The plan, detectives say, was to carry out the attack during a Christmas parade led by Cadis through Jaffa.

They say Fuad Abu Mana initially approached Cadis during the pageant with a knife in his hand, but were unable to carry out the crime as planned.

The three went with Cadis into the Church of St. George where, investigators believe, Fuad Abu Mana sent Dalu to turn off the lights. This time Cadis and the conspirators were separated by a gate.

Finally, after the afternoon worship service Fuad Abu Mana, dressed as Santa Claus, followed Cadis out of the church and, police say, attacked him.

Cadis was stabbed several times in the back. Fuad Abu Mana and Dalu then allegedly fled to Talal Abu Mana's home.

Attorneys for the three suspects say their clients categorically deny any connection to the murder, and say they believe public pressure sparked by media coverage of the real-estate dispute led to their arrests.