JERUSALEM — Vandals defaced a church in southern Israel in a suspected hate crime ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land, police said Friday.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a church was defaced with graffiti in the southern city of Beersheba. Police suspect it is the latest in a series of hate crimes blamed on Israeli radicals, he said.
The attack was unusual as the location has not been hit by vandals before and the anti-Christian slurs were badly misspelled in Hebrew, Rosenfeld added.
There has been a recent spate of hate crimes, mainly in the form of vandalism and graffiti, targeting churches, mosques, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases.
The acts are believed to be the work of Jewish extremists protesting what they perceive as the Israeli government’s pro-Palestinian policies and in retaliation for Palestinian attacks.
The attacks have been condemned by Israeli leaders across the political spectrum.
Some 15 “right-wing individuals” have been given orders this week banning them from Jerusalem after intelligence reports indicated they planned a “provocation.”
The measure restricts them from Jerusalem’s Old City, which Francis will visit, and orders them to stay away from the pope.
Earlier Friday, police said they arrested two Jerusalem residents for hanging anti-pope, anti-Christianity posters in the city.
On Wednesday, Israel placed three young Jews under house arrest on suspicion they were planning to disrupt the pontiff’s Sunday-Monday visit.
Restraining orders were also imposed on two students from a Jewish seminary at Mount Zion, where on Monday the pope will hold a mass at the Upper Room where Jesus held the Last Supper.
“We have taken some preemptive steps to distance people who, according to intelligence received, were intending to disrupt the visit,” Friday’s Yedioth Ahronoth daily quoted Jerusalem police chief Yossi Pariente as saying.
“We have no intelligence about plans to harm the pope himself, but there are plans to embarrass the state of Israel or to disrupt public order during this sensitive visit.”
Some 8,000 extra police officers are to be deployed on Jerusalem’s streets for the duration of the visit.
The pope is expected on a three-day visit to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, beginning Saturday.
AFP contributed to this report.