Third suspect charged in arson at ‘miracle’ church
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Third suspect charged in arson at ‘miracle’ church

Moshe Orbach accused of penning document calling for attacks on non-Jewish property

A priest inspects the damage caused to the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, which was set on fire in what police suspect was an arson attack, on June 18, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
A priest inspects the damage caused to the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, in northern Israel, which was set on fire in what police suspect was an arson attack, on June 18, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Israeli prosecutors on Thursday charged a third Jewish suspect in a probe linked to a June arson attack at a shrine where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of loaves and fishes.

Authorities accused Moshe Orbach of writing and distributing a document detailing the “necessity” of attacking non-Jewish property and people as well as laying out practical advice to do so, the justice ministry said.

The document was part of the evidence found during the investigation over the June 18 arson attack at the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes in northern Israel.

Orbach was released to house arrest due to a prosecution error, the Hebrew-language website Ynet reported.

Charges were filed against Orbach at the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court, but Orbach’s attorney claimed the court had no jurisdiction in the case, so new charges are to be filed against him Sunday in the central district court.

On Wednesday, charges were filed against Yinon Reuveni and Yehuda Asraf for allegedly setting fire to part of the church complex and writing “Idols will be cast out” on a nearby wall.

Yinon Reuveni (right) and Yehuda Asraf, suspected of vandalizing the church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, are seen at the Nazareth Magistrate's Court on July 29, 2015. (Photo by Basel Awidat/Flash90)
Yinon Reuveni (right) and Yehuda Asraf, suspected of vandalizing the church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, are seen at the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court on July 29, 2015. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

One of the buildings within the compound was completely destroyed in the blaze but the church itself was not damaged.

The church in Tabgha, on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, is at the site where many Christians believe Jesus fed the 5,000 in the miracle of the five loaves and two fish.

The arson had sparked widespread condemnation and concern from Christians globally, with the site visited by some 5,000 people daily, while also drawing renewed attention to religiously linked hate crimes in Israel.

Orbach had been arrested in 2013 on suspicion of vandalizing a Catholic monastery the previous year but was released without being charged.

Reuveni, a resident of the southern town of Ofakim in recent months, has been banished from the West Bank on several occasions and is a suspect in a series of hate crimes, including the February 2015 arson attack at Jerusalem’s Dormition Abbey.

Asraf, the Shin Bet said in a statement, has been living on an illegal outpost and is active in extremist Jewish circles.

The Shin Bet general security service has described the group as part of an “ideological infrastructure” that is small in size and adheres to a belief system that seeks to affect regime change in Israel and “hasten redemption.”

The group’s first hate crime was allegedly perpetrated in April 2014, when the Dir Rafaat monastery, near Beit Shemesh west of Jerusalem, was vandalized. One month later, they allegedly tried to interfere with Pope Francis’s visit to Israel but were prevented from doing so.

Later in the year, in November and December, the group allegedly set fire to Palestinian houses but in the spring of 2015 focused again on Christian sites.

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