Greek Church condemns ‘terror attack’ after clerics targeted at Jerusalem holy site

Israel Police say southern Israel resident wielding iron bar arrested for ‘violent incident’ at Tomb of the Virgin Mary; eyewitness claims two Jewish men involved

Worshippers stand with a monk outside the closed entrance to the tomb of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem following the alleged assault of a priest, on March 19, 2023. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
Worshippers stand with a monk outside the closed entrance to the tomb of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem following the alleged assault of a priest, on March 19, 2023. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

The Greek Orthodox Church on Sunday denounced what it called a “heinous terrorist attack” on a church at the Tomb of the Virgin Mary in Jerusalem.

The Israel Police said earlier in the day that a 27-year-old resident of southern Israel had been arrested over “a violent incident” at the church in East Jerusalem, without providing further details on the suspect’s identity.

The Greek Orthodox Church said it “denounces the attempt to cause physical harm to Archbishop Joachim, who was leading the service, as well as the attack on one of the priests in the church.”

In a statement, it called for “international protection of holy sites.”

“Terrorist attacks, by radical Israeli groups, targeting churches, cemeteries, and Christian properties… have become almost a daily occurrence that evidently increases in intensity during Christian holidays,” it said.

The incident occurred as Christians mark Lent.

Bilal Abu Nab, a vendor who works near the church, told AFP that the attack was committed by two Jewish men, one wearing a yarmulke and the other wearing tzitzit.

He said a priest had been injured in the forehead, and police were called but arrived more than half an hour later.

Without mentioning a second assailant, the police said the apprehended suspect entered the church with an iron bar and that there were no injuries.

“We view violence of any kind with severity and will continue to act against incidents of violence in general and incidents of violence in holy places in particular, with a firm, uncompromising hand in order to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the Israel Police said in a statement.

Attacks on Christian sites in Jerusalem are not uncommon.

In February, a statue of Jesus Christ was vandalized at the Church of the Condemnation, where Christians believe Jesus was flogged and sentenced to death. A US tourist was arrested as the suspect.

A month earlier, dozens of Christian graves were desecrated at an Episcopal cemetery on Mount Zion, where Christians believe Jesus’s Last Supper took place. Two Jewish Israeli teens were later arrested on suspicion of carrying out the vandalism.

In East Jerusalem, 230,000 Israelis live along with at least 360,000 Palestinians who want to make the sector the capital of their future state. Israel sees Jerusalem as its unified capital.

But Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have been stalled since 2014 and Israeli-Palestinian violence has worsened this year.

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