Christian leaders in the Holy Land have condemned an assault on an Armenian restaurant in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem by a group of radical Israelis, warning that the “radical aggression” is aimed at imposing an exclusively “Jewish character” on the city.
Thursday’s attack was caught on CCTV footage and showed the group shouting and carrying Israeli flags as a shoving match ensured and chairs were thrown violently toward patrons outside the Taboon Wine Bar restaurant. One agitator was seen with an aerosol can spraying an unknown liquid at those gathered outside the restaurant. Police reportedly arrived at the scene an hour after they had been informed about the attack. While they ordered the attackers to leave the area, none were arrested.
“This unprovoked violence instilled fear in the shopkeepers and residents of the Christian quarter as well as visitors,” the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, which brings together the leaders of the various Catholic churches in the region, said in a statement.
“It is only the latest in a series of episodes of religious violence that is affecting the symbols of the Christian community and beyond.”
The Christian leaders said they condemn such attacks and “express our concern for the escalation of violence in the Holy City.”
They noted that the incident took place in the street which leads to the Holy Sepulcher, the most sacred Christian place in the world, and in the Christian Quarter which hosts many monasteries and churches.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built on the spot where Catholics and Orthodox Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.
“It is a priority that the political and religious authorities work according to their own responsibility to bring the civil and religious life of the city back to greater serenity,” they said. “Jerusalem must remain the homeland of believers of all faiths and not hostage to radical groups.”
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, paid a visit to the restaurant owner as well as the owners of nearby shops that were also affected, as a demonstration of support in the face of what he described as a growing threat to the Christian presence in Jerusalem.
The Orthodox Jerusalem Patriarchate also strongly condemned the incident.
The Old City, which is part of East Jerusalem in Israel, has sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Last January, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem said Israeli radical fringe groups were seeking to drive the Christian community out of the city.
“Our presence in Jerusalem is under threat,” Theophilos III, the patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, wrote in an op-ed in The Sunday Times (U.K.) at the time.
“Our churches are threatened by Israeli radical fringe groups. At the hands of these Zionist extremists the Christian community in Jerusalem is suffering greatly. Our brothers and sisters are the victims of hate crimes. Our churches are regularly desecrated and vandalized. Our clergy are subject to frequent intimidation,” he continued.
Last June, the Office of the European Union Representative in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip warned that the heritage and traditions of the Christian community and the established religious equilibrium in the Old City of Jerusalem were at risk after Israel’s Supreme Court legitimized the takeover of Greek Orthodox properties by a Jewish settler group.
The court ruled Jewish settler group Ateret Cohanim legally purchased the Little Petra Hotel and Imperial Hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem in 2004. The properties are located in the Jaffa Gate area, which lies on the pilgrim route to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
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