Image: Damaged Israeli crematorium
Itzik Ben-malki / Ap
An Israeli man examines the damage caused by fire to the only crematorium in Israel.
updated 8/23/2007 8:19:12 PM ET 2007-08-24T00:19:12

Israel’s only crematorium, abhorred by ultra-Orthodox Jews, has been heavily damaged by fire, and police said Thursday that arson was suspected.

Burning bodies violates Orthodox Jewish law, which calls for a person to be interred intact. In Israel, crematoria also conjure up images of the ovens used to burn bodies in Nazi death camps.

“We suspect arson” in the blaze Wednesday night, police spokesman Shlomo Journo said. No arrests have been made, but Yehuda Meshi-Zahav — an activist for ultra-Orthodox causes who heads the Zaka rescue service — has been summoned for questioning on Sunday on suspicion of trespassing, Journo said.

Alon Nativ, the crematorium’s operator, told Channel 2 TV the facility has been running for two years, but its location hadn’t been disclosed for fear it would be attacked. Access is through a Web site and by phone.

Nativ accused Zaka of discovering the crematorium and posting pictures of it on the Internet.

Zaka’s legal counsel, Michael Gutwin, told the TV station that the site on Moshav Hibat Zion in central Israel was open, “so it wasn’t trespassing.”

Meshi-Zahav accused the facility’s owners of “selling their souls to the devil.”

“This is the Holy Land,” he told Channel 10 TV. “Those who want to do this should do it abroad.”

Nativ said two people have been cremated at the facility so far and others have signed up.

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