A fire broke out in a Greek Orthodox seminary for the study of Christianity next to Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem overnight Wednesday. An investigation into the incident revealed a deliberate arson attack was carried out. According to findings collected at the scene, the arsonists poured flammable liquid into the bathroom through a window, lit it, and fled.
Messages disparaging Jesus were found on the walls. Police are investigating the possibility of a hate crime. The messages included phrases such as "Jesus is a son of a b***h", and "the Redemption of Zion". Firefighters put out the blaze and no one was hurt. Police were called to the scene.
The police will examine whether there is a link between the torching of the Christian seminary in Jerusalem and the torching of a Palestinian mosque in Jab'a, near Bethlehem in the West Bank on Wednesday. In both cases, the phrase "the Redemption of Zion" was scrawled on the walls.
The fire started shortly before 4am in a toilet and shower room inside the building. Three firefighting teams were called to the scene and quickly put out the fire, preventing it from spreading to the rest of the structure. The teams aired out the building and searched for trapped people, but did not spot any inside.
President Reuven Rivlin spoke by phone with Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, and expressed his sadness and shock at the attack on the building.
The president said, "It is inconceivable that an act like this could happen in a house of prayer, this is a heinous crime, there must be an investigation and those responsible must be brought to justice. Such criminals not only threaten to set fire to places of worship holy to all of us, but ignite the regional powder keg upon which we all sit."
The president added, "The protection and conservation of the holy sites, both those holy for us and those holy for others, is our obligation as a state and as a society, and we cannot allow such attacks to sabotage the common fabric of our lives here. We all have a responsibility to put an end to these terrible acts."
The Patriarch thanked the President, and expressed appreciation for his concern. He stated, "Our mission is to act to bring an end to such acts, in all areas of the Land of Israel."
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat condemned the attack as "deplorable" and pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat denounced the perpetrators of both incidents as "terrorists", blaming Israel's government for inciting the attacks by continuing its "illegal occupation and colonisation based on distorted religious claims."
The United Nations has warned such incidents could "inflame an already volatile environment."
Two months ago, a 21-year-old Jewish man was arrested after he vandalized a cross at the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem. He was apprehended by a security guard and taken in for questioning.
In May last year, police launched an investigation after receiving reports that a prayer book was set on fire in an apparent arson attack at the Dormition Abbey, shortly Pope Francis visited the site during his visit to Israel. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said an eyewitness saw a man enter the Dormition Abbey and light candles before fleeing the scene. The suspect's identity or motive was not immediately known.
AFP contributed to this report.