Jerusalem: Christian centre torched in arson attack

Police are exploring the possibility that the incident was a hate crime.Jerusalem Fire and Rescue Services

A Jerusalem building belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church was torched and vandalised in a suspected hate crime on Thursday.

A spokesperson for the fire services confirmed that fighters attended the scene near the Jaffa Gate of the Old City at around 4am and extinguished the blaze. A police spokesperson described the attack as "nationalist".

An inspection found anti-Christian graffiti sprayed on the walls of the building, and police are exploring the possibility that the incident was a hate crime. It is thought that the fire may have been started by far-right Jewish extremists, who are known to instigate 'price tag' attacks against Palestinian property and religious sites.

Archbishop Aristarchos of the Greek Orthodox Church said that the building has been previously threatened by "religious Jewish people".

"It is a seminary and people live there," he told Army Radio after the attack. "Luckily a great deal more damage was not caused. This is a saddening incident, and luckily nobody was hurt. Once, religious Jewish people with sidelocks came and issued threats. Perhaps the police will know if this is connected to them."

Today's attack follows the torching of a mosque in the West Bank village of Jab'aa on Wednesday. Grafitti was also found on the walls of the Muslim building, including a Jewish Star of David and the word "revenge".

Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, condemned the attack. "There is no room for such deplorable activity in Jerusalem. We must eradicate this behaviour and bring those responsible to justice," he said. "We must quickly restore the peace and coexistence in Jerusalem".

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat blamed the two latest attacks on "Israeli terrorists ... protected by a government that claims exclusivity over this land."

His comments were backed by the Arab Joint List party in a statement. Criminals are being "strengthened by the racist and fascist atmosphere sweeping through the Jewish Street, under the auspices of the far-right parties," the statement said, adding that the government has "implemented clear policies of discrimination, exclusion and oppression."