Israeli police arrest 'Jewish suspects' for 'loaves and fishes' church arson

Israeli police and agents of the Shin Bet security service have arrested several suspects in June's arson attack on the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha in the Galilee, Shin Bet has announced.

The arrests followed "a covert, strenuous and professional investigation that began right after the church was torched," the Shin Bet said in a statement on July 12.

Details of the arrests, including the number of suspects and their place of residence, are under a court-imposed gag order, The Times of Israel reported.

The suspects were being questioned by the Shin Bet for the suspected arson attack on the iconic Christian place of worship known as the "loaves and fishes church," where one of Jesus's best known miracles is believed to have taken place.

The Nationalist Crimes Division of the Judea and Samaria Police, a unit specializing in investigating hate crimes by Jewish extremists, are leading the investigation.

"Several Jewish suspects have been arrested for the burning of the church and the Nazareth court has decided to extend their detention for the purposes of the investigation," police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement.

The suspects will appear in Nazareth Magistrate's Court on Sunday for a remand hearing, Israel Radio said. Police are seeking a remand extension.

The church is believed by Christians to be where Jesus's biblical miracle of multiplying two fish and five loaves to feed 5,000 people, and was set on fire June 16.

Two people in the church, a 19-year-old tourist and a 79-year-old employee, suffered minor injuries from smoke inhalation.                                     

The damage on the church itself was not significant, as the fire raged mainly on the roof. Some damage was caused to a book storage room, offices, and an event hall.

Hebrew graffiti was found reading in an entrance hall to the church saying, "The false gods will be eliminated." It is a quote from Jewish liturgy.

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