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Arsonist starts fire in East Jerusalem church

May 27, 2014 12:22 P.M. (Updated: May 28, 2014 9:32 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- An unidentified arsonist late Monday started a fire in Dormition Abbey church near the Old City of Jerusalem, a bishop told Ma'an.

William Shomali, the auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, told Ma'an that a man set fire to the church's visitors' book and threw it on the floor next to the organ.

Priests hurried to put out the fire, Shomali said.

He noted that the attack took place as Pope Francis ended his Holy Land visit.

"Someone entered the church and went down to the crypt, took a book that is used by pilgrims to a small room next to the organ, and set some wood crosses on fire," the Benedictine Abbot of the church, Nikodemus Schnabel, told AFP.

Some of the German Benedictine monks from the church were coated in black soot after putting out the fire and there was a strong smell of smoke, said an AFP photographer. A small pile of fire-damaged crosses lay in a smouldering heap and furniture had been damaged.

The Israeli police said it was investigating the fire. "According to initial testimony, a man, not a Jew, entered the Church of the Dormition, grabbed a candle and set fire to a book," said spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

The church has been subjected to "price tag" attacks in the past. In 2013, suspected Jewish extremists sprayed anti-Christian graffiti in Hebrew on the church.

Vandals sprayed "Christians are monkeys" and "price tag" on the walls and slashed the tires of cars around the church.

AFP contributed to this report.
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