Police arrested this afternoon 16 individuals in connection with the arson at a Galilee church Thursday morning. Police released no details about the arrests, other than to say that they were residents of communities in the Samaria region.
According to police sources, the youths were on a hike in the region, and were arrested several kilometers away from the church.
The Honenu legal rights organization is defending them, and a spokesperson for the group said that the youths had no connection to the incident, and that police had not presented any evidence of such a connection.
Condemnations poured in Thursday after police said that a fire and defacement at the Tabgha Church was most likely a hate crime.
Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Davi Lau denounced the attack, stating that “the aggressive ideologies that arrogate to themselves the right to act with violence like this have in recent years become a black mark for the entire world."
"The actions taken this morning, apparently by ignorant and violent cowards, are completely at odds with the values of Judaism and humanity.
“I call on the heads of the groups who are the spiritual shepherds of these radicals to protect the good relations between religious groups in Israel. The delicate balance between communities must be preserved, and the heads of religious groups must use their positive influence on their congregants. All of us must be on guard not to harm the holy places of any religion,” he added.
Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom spoke with the heads of the church, expressing Israel's horror and determination to bring the miscreants behind the action to justice. A
crime like this, Shalom said, “is unthinkable and unacceptable. Israel as a democratic state is disgusted by the damage to freedom of religion and will not accept any excuses for this action. I apologize to you personally and in the name of the State of Israel.”
The state, he said, will assist in refurbishing the church, which suffered heavy damage in the fire.
Earlier, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipt Hotovely condemned the action, saying that “Israel respects freedom of religion for all and is repulsed by such actions. I'm positive police will do everything they can to arrest those behind this action."