Christian Center Set on Fire, Vandalized in Jerusalem Hate Crime Attack

Damage done to a building belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church near the Old City; graffiti denigrating Jesus was sprayed on one of the walls.

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A burned door at a center for religion studies belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, February 26, 2015.Credit: Jerusalem Fire and Rescue Services

A building belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem was set on fire and vandalized early on Thursday in a hate crime attack.

Firefighters arrived at the scene and extinguished the flames, and classified the fire as arson after an investigation into whether the fire was deliberately set. The forces also found hate graffiti denigrating Jesus sprayed on one of the walls.

Damage was done to parts of the building, but no one was hurt.

The structure, which is used as for religious studies, is located near the Old City's Jaffa Gate.

A mosque in a West Bank village near Bethlehem was torched warly on Wednesday, Palestinain media reported. The report said that settlers that entered Kafr Jab'a also sprayed hate graffiti on the building, including "we want the redemption of Zion," and "revenge."

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said in a statement that both Wednesday and Thursday's attacks were the works of "Israeli terrorists ... protected by a government that claims exclusivity over this land."

Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi echoed Erekat's comments, calling the price tag attacks "terrorism in all respects" and decrying how "criminals still roam freely without any deterrence or punishment."

"If you can kill a Palestinian or cut down an olive tree without penalty," Tibi added, "then you can burn mosques and churches without fear."

Mount Zion, the area where the suspected attack occurred, is one of the more vulnerable areas concerning price tag attacks. In the past two years, there have been dozens of various hate crimes, including the assault of Christian clergymen, graffiti, punctured tired, desecrated grave-sites, smashed gravestones and more.

In May 2014, a nearby church was set aflame shortly after Pope Francis' visit. In 2013, vandals smashed Ottoman ceramic tiles at King David's Tomb, thus destroying the last traces to the compound's Muslim past. Later that year, vandals smashed gravestones of prominent historical figures at a Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion.

Church leaders have often expressed concern about monks and clergy's fears of walking around Mount Zion in uniform due to spitting and harassment.

"In Mount Zion, might makes right, where a bully can do what he wants. There isn't a monk here who doesn't get spat upon - it's part of the job description," a senior official of one of the local churches told Haaretz months ago.

Church leaders have often blamed students at local Yeshivas, visiting from the Diaspora, for the attacks. In recent years, the visiting Yeshiva students have been identified with the "hilltop youth," some of whom have been expelled from the territories. The head of the Yeshiva denied the allegations.

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