Church attacks in Israel 'poison' before pope's visit, cleric says

Sun May 11, 2014 11:35pm EDT
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By Allyn Fisher-Ilan

HAIFA Israel (Reuters) - The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land said on Sunday a spate of attacks against the Church had poisoned the atmosphere ahead of this month's visit by Pope Francis, and urged Israel to crack down on the perpetrators.

Fourteen attacks by suspected far-right Israelis have been reported in the past year. Several have been carried out over the last month, including a death threat daubed in Hebrew at the Assembly of Bishops at the Notre Dame Center in East Jerusalem.

The attacks have become known as "price tags" - a reference by ultranationalist Jews to making the Israeli government "pay" for any curbs on Jewish settlement on Palestinian land.

"There has been a marked increase of 'price tag' provocations within Israel," Fouad Twal, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, told reporters at a post-Easter procession in the city of Haifa, home to thousands of Israeli Arab church faithful.

"This wave of extremist actions of terror are surely of grave concern to all reasonable persons."

Twal said "the unrestrained acts of vandalism poison the atmosphere" ahead of Pope Francis' first pilgrimage to the Holy Land since ascending to the papacy. The pontiff will visit Jordan, the West Bank and Jerusalem from May 24 to 26.

Twal drew some encouragement from pledges by Israeli officials, notably Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, to crack down on "price tag" attackers.

But he added that until Israel's pledges to stop the vandalism "become acts, we remain skeptical."   Continued...

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal waves to media before the religious service as part of an annual pilgrimage at a baptism site on Jordan River January 10, 2014.  REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed