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Church officials say arson behind Jerusalem fire

Oct. 30, 2010 10:44 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 31, 2010 11:02 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli settlers were initially accused of carrying out the torching of a church building in Jerusalem on Friday evening, destroying the interior of what was until 1948 the Palestine Bible College.

Guardian for the Jerusalem Alliance Church, Zakariyya Al-Mashriqi, said there was evidence that a "group of extremist settlers broke a window in the back of the two-story building and hurled fire bombs inside," resulting in the torching of the first floor.

While witnesses from the nearby Bikur Holim Hospital later said the fire was the result of an accident, pointing to candles from the church setting the blaze, a church official told Ma'an that they remained unsure of the cause.

There appeared to be evidence, the official said, that pointed to arson, but he added that the church was awaiting the findings of fire investigators. The investigation team, the church was told, would not be able to begin investigations until the end of the Jewish sabbath, when crews and insurance agents would carry out a search.

An Israeli police spokesperson did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Al-Mashriqi condemned the arson, saying it was meant to create division among Jerusalem leaders and ultimately to expel Palestinians from the area through ongoing attacks on their properties.

According to the government news network WAFA, the building, constructed in 1897, was initially used as part of the campus for the Palestine Bible College, which was shut down in 1948, when employees and church officials fled fighting and sought shelter in East Jerusalem. When Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, church officials returned to the building, which was refurbished in 1967.

The building was located on Prophets Street, which runs through both East and West Jerusalem.

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