Israel arrests suspects in torching of Church of Loaves and Fishes

Jerusalem – Israeli police said suspects had been arrested on suspicion of torching a church revered by Christians as the site of Jesus’s miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

The suspects were arrested overnight, a police spokeswoman said Sunday (July 12), following a joint investigation with the Shin Bet internal undercover security agency.

The suspects are set to face a remand hearing in the northern city of Nazareth later on Sunday.

As well as extensive fire damage to the church, a verse from a Hebrew prayer denouncing the worship of “false gods” was spray-painted in red on an outer wall of the church, suggesting Jewish zealots were responsible.

The church was built in the 1980s on the site of 4th and 5th century houses of worship that commemorated what Christians revere as Jesus’s miraculous feeding of 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ordered the Shin Bet to launch a top-priority investigation, described the incident as “an attack on all of us”.

After the June 18 fire, the Rabbis for Human Rights group said there had been 43 hate crime attacks on churches, mosques and monasteries in Israel and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2009.

Dozens of arrests have been made in such cases, but there have been few indictments and convictions, with police and prosecutors acknowledging that the young age of many of the suspected perpetrators has led courts to show leniency.