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Suspected Israeli nationalists torch Christian seminary in Jerusalem

Greek Orthodox compound set ablaze before West Bank school vandalized with hate speech in third such attack in a week

Suspected Israeli nationalists set fire to a Christian seminary in Jerusalem and vandalized an elementary school in Nablus on Thursday, officials said. The attacks, which came a day after a similar group burned a mosque near Bethlehem, have been characterized as hate crimes by Israeli officials and "terrorism" by Palestinians.

According to local media reports, the assailants poured flammable liquid into a bathroom window of the Greek Orthodox seminary and ignited it. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said "anti-Christian" slogans were scribbled in Hebrew on the seminary's walls — including “Jesus is a son of a whore” and “the redemption of Zion.”

The fire damaged the compound’s bathroom facilities, but was quickly subdued by city fire officials. No one was injured in the blaze.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in a statement that the fire at the seminary was set deliberately and "there is no room for such deplorable activity" in the city, which is deemed holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians. The majority of Palestinian Christians are members of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Shortly after the arson attack, Israeli settlers reportedly vandalized an elementary school in the West Bank village of Urif, south of Nablus. According to Ma'an News, the settlers, who hail from the nearby Yizhar settlement, scrawled a Star of David along with the words “Death to Arabs” on the building’s entrance.

The latest spate of provocations by Israeli nationalists against Palestinians appeared to have started Wednesday, when settlers vandalized and set fire to a mosque in the village of Al-Jaba’ah. The attackers reportedly broke the windows of the sanctuary and threw burning objects inside, after spray-painting the words “Revenge for the Land of Zion” and “Price Tag” on its exterior.

Mosques, churches, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases have been targeted by vandals in recent years in so-called "price tag" attacks. The phrase is used by Israeli nationalists to protest what they perceive as the Israeli government's pro-Palestinian policies.

The attacks have been condemned across the political spectrum and Israeli officials said they would investigate the matters as possible hate crimes, but critics say Israel often fails to apprehend and prosecute the assailants.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said in a statement on Thursday that the fires at the Jerusalem seminary and the mosque near Bethlehem were the work of "Israeli terrorists ... protected by a government that claims exclusivity over this land."

Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian legislator in the Israeli Knesset, characterized the attacks as “terrorism in all respects” and denounced the Israeli justice system for not doing more to curb such assaults, according to Haaretz.

"If you can kill a Palestinian or cut down an olive tree without penalty," Tibi added, "then you can burn mosques and churches without fear."

A total of 329 incidents of settler-related violence targeting Palestinians in the West Bank were reported in 2014, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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