Israel arrests three suspected of links to attack on historic church

Internal security service Shin Bet will question the suspects as a court is expected to extend their detention

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Israeli authorities arrested three people early Sunday on suspicion of having links to a fire that severely damaged the historic Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha, 180 kilometers north of Jerusalem.

Internal security service Shin Bet will question the suspects, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported, adding that the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court is expected to extend their detention.

A joint investigation led by Shin Bet and the police’s nationalist crime unit is expected to reel in more suspects.

Two people were lightly hurt in the June 17 fire which severely damaged the church’s structure, roof, nuns’ office, and burnt hundreds of books.

A verse from a Hebrew prayer denouncing the worship of "false gods" was spraypainted in red on a church wall, suggesting Jewish zealots were responsible.

Police detained for questioning 16 Jewish seminary students visiting the Sea of Galilee area from settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank at the time but freed them within hours. A lawyer for the youngsters said there was no evidence against them.

The Rabbis for Human Rights group said there have been 43 hate crime attacks on churches, mosques and monasteries in Israel and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2009, Reuters news agency reported.

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