Attack on Gethsemane Church intended to 'drive Christians from the Holy Land'

(Photo: Unsplash/Stacey Franco)

An arson attack on the Church of Gethsemane has been condemned by the most senior Christian leader in Jerusalem. 

His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem, is pleading for help from the international community to protect Christians and Christian sites in the Holy Land following last Friday's attack on the church, situated on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives.

A 49-year-old Israeli man was arrested by Israeli police in connection with the attack, which was started inside the church using flammable liquid, damaging wooden pews and a Byzantine floor mosaic.

Patriarch Theophilos said it was "a crime inspired by an extreme ideology that seeks to drive Christians from the Holy Land".

He added: "I call on the international community to take its role in protecting Christian shrines, and preserving the indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land."

Fr Ibrahim, from the Custody of the Holy Land, the body responsible for protecting Catholic sites in Jerusalem, said the arson attack was "a crime that shouldn't happen in a church in the Holy Land".

The Patriarch recently appealed for support at the inaugural meeting of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Christianity in the Holy Land in the UK Parliament.

Chair of the new APPG, Steve Double MP, said: "This attack at a site of great significance to Christians worldwide reveals the threat that radical groups pose.

"Incidents like this demonstrate why we have established a new APPG on Christianity in the Holy Land to help ensure it remains a place where Christians can continue to live, flourish and thrive."

Members of the Jewish community have also spoken out against the attack.

Lord Howard of Lympne, former Conservative Party leader and a trustee of the Council of Christians and Jews, said: "We deplore this attack on a Christian Holy Site in Jerusalem.

"Jewish people around the world stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters wherever they face persecution because of their faith.

"Attacks like this redouble our efforts to improve relations between faith communities and build societies based on peaceful coexistence."

Anita Delhaas, Chief Executive of the International Community of the Holy Sepulchre, which supports churches in the Holy Land, said Christians in the region were facing many challenges to preserve their livelihoods and ancient heritage.

"More than ever, Holy Land Christians need friends, supporters and advocates in Europe and America to speak up and take action to prevent incidents like this from happening in the first place," she said.