Israel sets free Jewish settlers after arson attack on Christian church

A group of young Jewish settlers suspected of torching the Catholic Church of the Multiplication, on the spot where Jesus is believed to have performed a Biblical miracle, have been released without charge.

The church, located on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, was set ablaze early Thursday morning. Graffiti saying, “The false gods will be eliminated,” in Hebrew – a quote from a Jewish prayer – was also daubed on a wall.

The church was marking the Biblical story of the Feeding of the 5,000, in which Jesus fed a crowd with five loaves and two fish, and has been rebuilt several times since the fifth century.

The building suffered extensive damage, with the roof partly collapsed and stone walls charred. Several members of the clergy suffered smoke inhalation, and one 80-year-old monk was reportedly hospitalized. The altar of the Catholic church is said to have been left intact, despite the damage to its other rooms. A church shop with Bibles and prayer books was completely destroyed in the fire.

Sixteen Jewish youths visiting the area from the West Bank were detained for questioning following the arson. The group, which included several seminary students and legal minors, were set free with no conditions after their testimonies were taken.