02:53 - Source: CNN
Arson suspected at church near Sea of Galilee

Story highlights

Police question 16 Jewish youths and later release them

"Idols will have their heads cut off," says graffiti in Hebrew outside the church

(CNN) —  

A church at the site in Israel where Christians believe Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish has been badly damaged by arson, police said Thursday.

Fires were set off early Thursday in the monastery section of the Church of the Multiplication, in Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee, Israeli police said.

The flames consumed much of the interior of the monastery and destroyed the roof, leaving only charred remains of Bibles and other objects.

Graffiti scrawled in red Hebrew lettering on a wall outside the Roman Catholic church read, “Idols will have their heads cut off.”

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has denounced the attack.

“The State of Israel safeguards the freedom of worship of all faiths and completely rejects any and all attempts to harm it,” Hotovely said.

Jewish settlers questioned

Police detained 16 Jewish settlers, all of them minors, for questioning over the incident and later released them.

The Church of the Multiplication is run by Benedictine monks, and the area is one of the most significant in Christianity.

The area is one of the most significant in Christianity. The site of the church is near the places where the New Testament says Jesus walked on water and delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

The part of the church housing the rock where Jesus is said to have put the five loaves and two fish wasn’t damaged in the fire.

Numerous places of worship in the region have been attacked in recent years. Police have said they suspect right-wing Jewish extremists of torching and defacing mosques and churches in the past.

Palestinians say not enough is being done to catch those behind the attacks.

“Churches and Mosques in all of historic Palestine continue to be targeted by Israeli terrorists who enjoy full impunity from their State,” the Palestine Liberation Organization said last month.

CNN’s Oren Libermann reported from Tabgha, and Jethro Mullen wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Michael Schwartz, Kareem Khadder and Khushbu Shah contributed to this report.