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Israel police ban 15 Jewish extremists ahead of pope visit

May 24, 2014 6:07 P.M. (Updated: May 25, 2014 1:07 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Fearing disruption by Jewish extremists when Pope Francis visits Jerusalem this weekend, police said on Friday they would issue restraining orders against 10 more activists, bringing the total to 15.

And just two days before the pope's arrival, police said that offensive "anti-Christian graffiti" was discovered on the outer wall of a church in the southern desert city of Beersheba, spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

A picture distributed by police showed Hebrew graffiti reading "Jesus = son of a bitch," prompting police to open an investigation. The attack comes after a wave of hate crimes against Christian sites and property by Jewish extremists in recent months.

Earlier, Rosenfeld said Jerusalem police chief Yossi Pariente had decided to slap another 10 people with restraining orders for the duration of the pope's visit to the city, which begins on Sunday.

On Wednesday, three young Jews were confined to house arrest on suspicion they were planning to disrupt the pontiff's two-day visit.

Restraining orders were also imposed on two students from a Jewish seminary at Mount Zion, where on Monday the pope will celebrate a mass at the Upper Room where Jesus held the Last Supper.

"We have taken some pre-emptive steps to distance people who, according to intelligence received, were intending to disrupt the visit," Pariente told Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

But police said they had no information about any attempt to harm the pope himself.

"We have no intelligence about plans to harm the pope himself, but there are plans to embarrass the State of Israel or to disrupt public order during this sensitive visit," he added.

Some 8,000 extra police officers are to be deployed on Jerusalem's streets for the duration of the visit.

Israel has been struggling to contain hate crimes by Jewish extremists targeting Palestinian and Arab property, including an increasing number of attacks on mosques and churches.

Despite scores of arrests, there have been no successful prosecutions, prompting concern from Christian leaders.

Also on Friday, two Jerusalem men were detained for questioning after putting up flyers "condemning Christianity and the pope." They were later released but handed orders to stay at least 150 meters (yards) from the pope, Rosenfeld said.

Meanwhile, West Bank officials said around 3,000 members of the Palestinian security forces were to be deployed for Sunday's papal visit to Bethlehem, a third of whom would be from the elite presidential guard, a spokesman told AFP.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
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