A Christmas tree ouside of the Catholic Church was set on fire in the northern Israeli Arab city of Sakhnin, and the words 'only the prophet Mohammed' were spray-painted on the exterior wall of the holy site, the police said. This was the third burning of a Christmas tree in the city in less than a week.
A complaint was filed by the city's Catholic Church, saying the tree was partially burnt. Police said it collected evidence from the scene and have opened an investigation, treating it as a suspected arson case.
The mayor of Sakhnin, Dr. Safuat Abu Riya, convened an emergency meeting Wednesday morning with the participation of city council members and Christian and Muslim clerics.
Abu Reya said that "Sakhnin stands united against any act that could harm the social fabric and the special relationship [between faiths] in the city." According to him, the arson does not represent the residents of the city.
Last Saturday, two Christmas trees erected outside two separate churches in the city were also torched. According to the police, one tree was placed outside the Catholic church and the other in front of the Orthodox church in Sakhnin. Both trees were set alight and partially burned.
Police have collected evidence from both scenes and are investigating the possibility of deliberate arson.
"Israel Police severely views incidents in which religious symbols are violated, and will use all the means at our disposal to bring the perpetrators to justice," the police said in a statement.
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Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, an alliance of predominantly Arab parties, later condemned the incidents.
"Torching Christmas trees is a despicable act that harms the Christmas spirit, as well as the unity and comradery in Arab society. Our solidarity is stronger than anyone who tries to hurt it. We'll make sure that the perpetrators are brought to justice," Odeh tweeted.
In the beginning of the month, a man was arrested on for spilling flammable liquid and setting it alight at the Church of All Nations in Jerusalem, causing minor damage.
According to the police report, the act caused minor damage to one pew and the mosaic floor. A guard at the scene detained the suspect until police arrived, who arrested him. Police said that a preliminary investigation shows that the suspect had criminal motives.
The perpetrator, a 49-year-old Jewish resident of Jerusalem, was detained by a security guard until police arrived. According to a later statement, investigators believed the attack had criminal rather than political motives.