The most senior church leader in Jerusalem has blamed an "extreme ideology" as the motivation behind an arson attack on a historic Gethsemane church. His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem, said the attack against The Basilica of the Agony, located on the Mount of Olives, was a "crime inspired by an extreme ideology that seeks to drive Christians from the Holy Land".
Following the attack, which took place on 4th December, Israeli police said they had arrested a 49-year-old Jewish man who "poured flammable liquid inside the church" and ignited it, causing damage to a priceless Byzantine floor mosaic. Several pews were also blackened by smoke.
Patriarch Theophilos called for greater security around Christian sites in the regions and urged the international community to "take its role in protecting Christian shrines, and preserving the indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land".
Fr Ibrahim Faltas from the Custody of the Holy Land — the body responsible for the protection of Catholic holy sites in Jerusalem — called the attack “a crime that shouldn’t happen in a church in the Holy Land".
Conservative MP Steve Double, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Christianity in the Holy Land, 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.”
Lord Howard of Lympne, the former leader of the Conservative Party and a trustee of the Council of Christians and Jews, added: “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, an organisation established to support the churches of the Holy Land, said:
“Christians in the Holy Land face many challenges to preserve their ancient heritage and present livelihoods.
"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.”