Bethlehem (AsiaNews) – Sobhy Makhoul, the chancellor of the Maronite Patriarchate in Jerusalem, told AsiaNews that the fire that broke out over the weekend at St Charbel Maronite Monastery (pictured) in Bethlehem was deliberately set. “It was an act of arson, not a fire caused by an electrical problem, an act of sectarian vandalism by radical Muslims.”
The fire caused no casualties or injuries because the building is currently unoccupied and under renovation, but the damage is evident and the local Christian community is now fearful of further violence.
The arsonists “got inside a room that had a lot of stuff, including furniture,” said Sobhy Makhoul, because the building is undergoing restoration work. "The fire reached it and spread quickly throughout the structure."
Police sources said that Muslim extremist groups have been active in the area and the culprits are already knows and should “be soon apprehended.”
For the chancellor of the Maronite Patriarchate, “The attack is sectarian in nature. It is anti-Christian, like many other incidents across the Middle East. Extremist groups operate in the area, including some Hamas cells. There are also some loose cannons that give vent to their ideology."
The St Charbel Maronite Convent is located in Wadi Maali, a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood in Bethlehem. The building includes several rooms and a small chapel for prayer. The fire started in the basement and then spread to other parts of the building.
"Last month, the Palestinian Authority donated US$ 100,000 for some repairs to the convent,” Sobhy Makhoul said. “This was a gesture of gratitude towards the patriarch and a show of support for the institution’s restoration."
Now the Christian community is concerned, he added, but "we must go on. We belong to this land. Our existence comes with tense situations. We have to absorb what happens, not just endure it."
Of course, like in the case of the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, it is necessary for the Palestinian Authority to "prosecute those responsible so that justice is done. Every form of extremism by Jews and Muslims must be stopped,” he said.
“As a Church, we condemn such acts of violence,” the Maronite official said. “In this regard, a lot of work has to be done to change the way preaching is done in mosques because far too often they provoke people and foments hatred. Anti-Christian hatred and violence should stop. (DS)