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Israeli court finds right-wing extremist guilty in 2015 church arson

July 3, 2017 11:06 P.M. (Updated: July 4, 2017 11:18 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A far-right Israeli extremist was found guilty on Monday in a 2015 arson attack targeting the famous Church of Multiplication in northern Israel, Israeli media reported.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, 22-year-old Yinon Reuveni was found guilty of all charges after torching the church, believed to be the site where Jesus Christ performed the miracle of multiplying fishes and loaves of bread, in June 2015.

Israeli news outlet Ynet reported that two people suffered from serious smoke inhalation during the attack, adding that Reuveni had also defaced the Church with anti-Christian graffiti.

The church only reopened in February of this year after undergoing extensive repairs following the fire.

Reuveni had also been charged in 2016 for committing acts of violence against Palestinians, Ynet noted, whereas Haaretz quoted Shin Bet sources as claiming that Reuveni had been involved in other arson attacks against mosques.

Reuveni’s lawyer reportedly vowed to appeal the Nazareth magistrate court’s verdict in the case.

Meanwhile, Haaretz said that the court acquitted another Israel suspected of having assisted Reuveni in the arson attack.

The verdict comes as Israeli security forces have recently stepped up detentions of right-wing Israeli extremists, as well as evacuated an illegal settlement outpost in the occupied West Bank known for hosting particularly aggressive settlers, where Reuveni had formerly resided.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported last month that Israeli authorities had issued 30 restraining orders currently in effect barring right-wing Jewish activists from entering the West Bank and contacting other Israeli extremists.

While Israeli police has said that the arrests were made as “continued efforts” to protect Palestinians and their property, many Palestinian activists and rights groups have accused Israel of fostering a “culture of impunity” for Israelis committing violent acts against Palestinians.

In March, Israeli NGO Yesh Din revealed that Israeli authorities served indictments in only 8.2 percent of cases of Israeli settlers committing anti-Palestinian crimes in the occupied West Bank in the past three years.

Between 500,000 and 600,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in violation of international law, with recent announcements of settlement expansion provoking condemnation from the international community.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there were a total of 107 reported settler attacks against Palestinians and their properties in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem in 2016. OCHA has recorded 65 such attacks since the beginning of the year.
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