Greek patriarchate denounces 'heinous terrorist attack' at occupied East Jerusalem church
The Greek Orthodox Church on Sunday denounced what it called a "heinous terrorist attack" on a church at the Tomb of the Virgin Mary in occupied East Jerusalem.
Israeli police had said earlier in the day that a 27-year-old resident of southern Israel had been arrested over "a violent incident" at the church, without providing further details on the suspect's identity.
The Greek Orthodox Church said it "denounces the attempt to cause physical harm to Archbishop Joachim, who was leading the service, as well as the attack on one of the priests in the church".
In a statement, it called for "international protection of holy sites".
"Terrorist attacks, by radical Israeli groups, targeting churches, cemeteries, and Christian properties… have become almost a daily occurrence that evidently increases in intensity during Christian holidays," it said.
The incident occurred as Christians mark Lent.
Bilal Abu Nab, a vendor who works near the church, told AFP that the attack was committed by two Jewish men, one wearing a yarmulke and the other wearing a tzitzit.
He said a priest had been injured in the forehead, and police were called but arrived more than half an hour later.
Without mentioning a second assailant, the police said the apprehended suspect entered the church with an iron bar and that there were no injuries.
The incident came after two Israeli radicals defaced a Christian cemetery in East Jerusalem on New Year's Day. The attackers toppled tombstones and smashed crosses located at the Protestant cemetery.
"It really grieves us to see what happened over the New Year holiday when we discovered that more than 30 tombstones and crosses were smashed to pieces by at least two Jewish extremists," Anglican bishop Husam Naoum said at the time.
"I ask for action to be taken; the perpetrators brought to the law and be a lesson for others."
The bishop attributed the attack to increased hate speech within Israeli society.
Palestinians in Jerusalem experience frequent violence from Israeli settlers and forces and both Christian and Muslim holy places come under attack.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is the third-holiest site in Islam and the most-sacred Muslim place in Palestine, often faces raids.
Israeli extremists commonly enter the site under the protection of Israeli forces as they worship in violation of the longstanding status quo arrangement in place there.
Violence against Palestinians at the compound often skyrockets during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which this year will begin later this week.
Israeli forces' actions at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan 2021 were central to sparking an 11-day escalation in Gaza that saw more than 250 Palestinians killed by the Israeli bombardment of the besieged coastal strip.
There are 230,000 Israeli settlers living illegally in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1980 in a move rejected by the international community, along with at least 360,000 Palestinians.
Palestinians view the city's eastern sector as the capital of their future independent state.