A senior official in the Catholic Church has called on President Shimon Peres to use the power of his office to apprehend those responsible for a number of incidents in the past few weeks in which Christian sites in Jerusalem were vandalized.

Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custodian of the Holy Land and head of the Franciscan Order in Israel, was responding to incidents that included painting slogans on the Narkis Street Baptist Congregation, on a Christian cemetery on Mount Zion and on the Greek Orthodox monastery in the Valley of the Cross. The slogans included "Jesus is dead," "Death to Christianity," "Mary is a whore" and "price tag."

"Price tag" is the name of an often violent campaign by militant Jewish settlers and nationalists, aimed mostly at Palestinians and Israeli peace activists. But police believe most of the vandalism against Christian targets, which has also included damage to cars parked near churches, was carried out by lone perpetrators in "copycat" attacks and not by an organized group.

Pizzaballa, who is thought to be close to Pope Benedict XVI, wrote to Peres despite the fact that the targeted sites were not associated with the Catholic Church.

"These actions," Pizzaballa wrote, "which as far as I know haven't led to any arrests, are but one painful example in a series of similar actions being carried out recently without hardly any hindrance. As you know, it is not my practice to write letters such as this. The various Christian communities live quietly and peacefully in Israel, with respect, appreciation and good relations with Jews and Moslems ... Unfortunately, throughout the years we have learned to ignore provocations and continue our daily life. Still, is seems that this time red lines have been crossed and we cannot remain silent. These shocking slogans sprayed on Christian sites of prayer, especially in Jerusalem, hurt the feelings of all the Christians in Israel, regardless of their creed, as well as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visiting Jerusalem and the holy land, and millions more worldwide. "I would be grateful," he continued, "if you would use all your power and influence with the authorities so that this dangerous pattern of action will be eradicated and these actions stopped, before they become an habitual part of Christian life in Israel."