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TABGHA, Israel — An arson attack gutted part of the church at the site where Christians believe Jesus performed a miracle by feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, Israeli officials said Thursday.
A verse from a Hebrew prayer denouncing the worship of "false gods" was spraypainted in red on a wall at the church on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
"Extensive damage was caused to the church both inside and out," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
A spokesman for the fire brigade said a preliminary investigation showed the blaze broke out in several places inside the church, evidence that it was started deliberately.
The limestone Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes was constructed in the 1980s and is overseen by the Benedictine Order. It was built on the site of 4th and 5th century churches.
"The torching of the church is a cowardly and despicable act which contradicts Israel's basic values," Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement.
The Rabbis for Human Rights group said there have been 43 hate crime attacks against churches, mosques and monasteries in Israel and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2009.