The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, known to Christians as the site where an angel miraculously appeared to Mary, the mother of Jesus, was partially burned Friday evening after three Jewish attackers shot off firecrackers and small gas canisters they had hidden in a baby stroller during a special prayer service for the opening of Lent.
According to witnesses, the attackers entered the basilica compound disguised as Christian pilgrims.
The three, identified as Hayim Eliahu Habibi, and his wife and daughter, were apprehended by Israeli police as the fire started by the firecrackers spread throughout the church compound. Hundreds of Christians made their way out of the church and into the courtyard, where they were joined by many more Christians and Muslims.
The growing crowd was attacked by Israeli police, who fired concussion grenades and tear gas at the worshippers. Emergency workers said at least two people were injured, and others were suffering from tear gas inhalation.
Greek Orthodox Patriarch Atallah Hannah stated "This attack is part of the ongoing assaults by Jewish extremists on various Christian and Muslim holy sites. Israeli authorities know that this is happening, but refuse to act against these terrorists. They are even allowing the Kadima party use the ancient Masjid al-Ahmar Mosque in Safad as their party headquarters!"
Meanwhile, the Advisor to the Latin Archbishop Wadiya Abu Nasser told reporters that they were filing a full report of the incident with the Vatican, and are awaiting a response from the Pope.
Mohammed Barakah, a local Parliament Member and Chair of the Israeli Communist Party, denounced the attack and announced that there would be a peaceful procession of Muslims and Christians on Saturday in Nazareth to protest this and other attacks on holy sites.