Three Arrested on Suspicion of Torching Church of Loaves and Fishes

More arrests are expected in connection with the fire that caused serious damage to the historic Church of the Multiplication in the Galilee.

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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Fire damage at the historic Church of the Multiplication, June 18, 2015.
Fire damage at the historic Church of the Multiplication, June 18, 2015.Credit: Israel Fire and Rescue Services
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

Three suspects were arrested early on Sunday in connection with a fire that caused serious damage to the historic Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee last month.

The Shin Bet security service is to question the suspects and their remand is expected to be extended at the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court on Sunday afternoon. More arrests are expected as part of the joint investigation involving the Shin Bet and the police's nationalist crime unit.

Two people were lightly hurt from smoke inhalation due to the June 17 fire, which caused serious damage to the church structure, roof, reception room, storeroom, the nuns’ office and the gift shop. Hundreds of books were burned.

Graffiti, in Hebrew, was found on site, reading “False idols will be smashed.”

The church is believed to be the site where Jesus fed throngs with miraculously multiplying loaves and fish, and is home to renowned, eye-catching mosaics.

Sixteen yeshiva students, reportedly West Bank settlers, were detained at the time in connection with the blaze but were releases shortly after.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the head of the Shin Bet, Yoram Cohen, to conduct an accelerated investigation into the incident.

The Catholic Church in Israel told Haaretz at that it saw this attack as a continuation of the aggression against holy Christian sites over the last few years, which it said the Israeli government and authorities have failed to deal with accordingly. A report on the matter has been given to the Vatican, the sources said.

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