A Jewish-American tourist walked into a church in the Old City of Jerusalem, struck a century-old statue depicting Jesus Christ with a hammer, and then toppled it before the guard on site subdued him, churchgoers say.
The alleged incident happened Thursday morning inside a compound on Via Dolorosa road that contains the churches of The Way of the Cross and Sanctuary of the Flagellation.
"Exodus Chapter 20 says you can't have idols in Jerusalem. This is the holy city," the man reportedly cried as the guard held him to the ground.
"Let me get my Kippah on," the man pleaded.
The Kippah is a skull cap worn by orthodox Jewish men. A video that emerged showed a man wearing trousers with tassels attached to them being subdued.
Majed al-Risheq, the guard on site, told The New Arab that the alleged assailant entered the compound as a group of visitors made their way in.
"Many Catholics come here to do the Way of the Cross," al-Risheq said.
The Way of the Cross, also known as Stations of the Cross, is a Christian tradition in honour of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, according to Christian beliefs.
"He had a hammer with him, and he tried to hurt me, but I overpowered him," al-Risheq said.
The statue was brought from Spain in 1912, said Eugenio Alliata, an Italian archaeologist and priest living in Jerusalem for decades.
"The Statue of Jesus was destroyed this morning in the very church where we commemorate the passion of Jesus, the suffering of Jesus," Alliata told TNA.
"Religion must be something to connect people, but sometimes people are in appearance religious, but inside they are not," he added.
In a statement, the Israeli police claimed the suspect was an American tourist in his forties. The police said they're investigating the possibility of the suspect being "mentally impaired".
"We take very seriously damage to religious institutions and sites. The police will continue to act against acts of violence and vandalism in the holy places of all religions," the Israeli police claimed.
Four weeks ago, two Jewish extremists vandalised a Palestinian Christian cemetery west of the old city of Jerusalem near Jaffa Gate.
Video footage showed two young men, one with tassels attached to his trousers, smashing tombs and crosses in the Jerusalem Protestant cemetery in occupied East Jerusalem. The Israeli police claimed it had brought charges against the perpetrators.
Church leaders in Jerusalem described a "disheartening atmosphere" prevailing in Jerusalem and the Holy Land in their Christmas message recently.
Palestinian Christians are increasingly facing "assaults" on their free exercise of Religion, personal "attacks," defamation of churches and cemeteries, the message read.
Church leaders have also warned that radical Jewish groups persist in acquiring strategic property in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem, employing underhanded dealings and intimidation tactics to evict residents from their homes to diminish the Christian presence.
Attacks against mosques and churches are not unusual.
In 1969, two years after Israel occupied East Jerusalem, an Australian man, a Christian fundamentalist, set fire to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The arson attack destroyed part of the old wooden roof and an 800-year-old pulpit.