VIDEO - A married couple from Jerusalem threw firecrackers in the Church of the Annunciation on Friday after entering the compound disguised as pilgrims.
The couple was identified as Haim Habibi, a Jewish man who is known to police, and his wife Violet, a Christian. Their 20-year-old daughter also entered the church.
Security establishment sources said the two are not right-wing activists, but are known to welfare authorities.
Video: Channel 2
HabibI and his wife entered the church with firecrackers and gas tanks hidden in a baby carriage, and proceeded to set off the firecrackers once inside.
Shortly thereafter hundreds of Nazareth residents arrived at the scene while chanting “death to Jews”; they caught Habibi and beat him while slamming his head into the ground.
Large police forces dispatched from the entire Northern District apprehended the couple and rescued them from the area an hour later. The family was evacuated to the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera for treatment.
“The State kidnapped three of my children,” Habibi said shortly after being released from hospital.
Evacuated in police outfits
The three assailants were whisked out of the church dressed in police uniforms after a long siege.
“Priests in the church helped us save the three from the raging crowd as they took us to a small room. Hundreds of people besieged the room. Policemen who protected the three with their own bodies were hit,” a police officer said.
People in the church were lured to inspect the crowd that had gathered outside as the police whisked the three assailants clad in police uniforms.
“By deflecting the attention of people in the church to look at events outside, we evacuated the three suspects through the church court. We received orders to evacuate them alive,” the officer added.
Speaking of the suspects’ reaction he said: “None of them said a word. To put it mildly they weren’t in this world.”
Following the incident, the angry mob outside the church burned police cruisers and damaged an ambulance that arrived in the area. Meanwhile, 13 police officers were hurt by stones hurled in the area and required medical treatment. Another 13 civilians also sustained light injuries.
Saturday, Christians in Nazareth are planning to hold a march to protest the incident.
Paramedic Yosef Fethowitz said prior to the rescue, “we are inside one of the (church’s) rooms, waiting for the injured man and ourselves to be rescued. There are police officers protecting us; they are throwing stones at us, but we do not feel as though our lives are in danger.”
Internal Minister Gideon Ezra, who happened to be in a nearby village during the incident, ordered police officers from all over the country to make their way to Nazareth.
“This is a severe incident. Police are trying to ease tensions along with the community leaders. I tried to speak with the mayor of Nazareth (Ramez Jerayssi), who is currently inside the church, and I will ask him to work to disperse the crowd and ease tensions,” he said.
'Police must deal with these crazy people'
The mayor of Nazareth and local Christian leaders entered the church compound in a bid to calm the crowd, while police forces have closed the area down.
Attorney Isam Abu-Nasser, who is at the scene, told Ynet “More than 1,000 people are here, asking to find out whether the Church of the Annunciation, one of the most important in the Christian world, was damaged. This is what concerns us at this point.”
Another witness said “we will demand that police deal with the crazy people responsible who carried out this act.”
Arab MK Mohammad Barakeh (Hadash) said the throwing of detonators inside the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth is “an attack by a group of Jewish terrorists from the extreme Right.”
“This act proves that terror groups of settlers and the extreme Right feel free to commit their crimes in the occupied territories and against the Arab population in Israel. The government and the police must capture these groups and stop treating them with kid gloves,” Barakeh said.
Arab MK Azmi Bishara (National Democratic Assembly) called the attack on the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth a “vile act.”
“This was a religious or nationalist attack, which in this country both are one and the same,” Bishara said.
“Such creatures (couple) grow here due to the racist atmosphere and culture in Israeli society. We ask that police act with restraint during the demonstrations by the city’s residents.”
Ali Waked contributed to the report