Israeli held after 2012 monastery 'price tag' attack

JERUSALEM (AFP) - A court on Monday extended the remand of an Israeli man arrested on suspicion of vandalising a Catholic monastery in a 2012 attack that had shocked the Holy Land's religious and political establishment.

The 22-year-old man, Moshe Orbach, is a resident of Bnei Brak, a city near Tel Aviv with a predominantly ultra-Orthodox population, according to the protocol of the remand extension hearing distributed by the Rishon Letzion Magistrates' Court.

He is suspected of taking part in the September 2012 attack in which the wooden door of the Trappist monastery in Latrun was burnt and "Jesus is a monkey" was scrawled on a wall.

The court extended his remand by four days.

The abbey, 15km west of Jerusalem on the border between Israel and the occupied West Bank hard by the 1949 armistice line, is one of the most famous monastic sites in the Holy Land.

In addition to the anti-Christian graffiti, the words "mutual guarantee" and the names of demolished wildcat outposts were spray-painted on the monastery walls.

This pointed to a "price tag" attack, a euphemism for extremist hate crimes that generally target Arabs.

Initially targeting Palestinians in retaliation for state moves to dismantle unauthorised settler outposts, such attacks have since become broader with racist and xenophobic overtones.

The Latrun incident was condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian Authority urged Israel to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger called it a "heinous crime", and the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land urged the authorities to put an end to "this senseless violence" and "ensure a 'teaching of respect' in schools".

Last month, Israeli ministers moved to increase the powers of the security establishment to crack down on the phenomenon, declaring that those involved belonged to an "illegal organisation", and on Monday, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon ratified the decision.

"This is a severe phenomenon involving indiscriminate acts of violence against Arabs, damaging their property and risking lives, in order to prevent the Israeli government from acting a certain way," he said.

"We must toughen the punishments these outlaws gets, since the results of their actions are disastrous," Mr Yaalon added in remarks relayed by his bureau.

Following a June attack in which 28 cars were vandalised in the Arab-Israeli village of Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem, Education Minister Shai Piron pledged to institutionalise "coexistence meetings" between Israeli Jews and Arabs in the new school year.

At a Sunday get-together of young Jews and Arabs at Abu Ghosh, Mr Piron said such meetings vitally important and "an inseparable part of the educational system's agenda".

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