JERUSALEM -- A Christian monastery near Jerusalem was defiled overnight by vandals, who set the front door on fire and spray-painted insults to Christianity, including "Jesus is a monkey" on the outside walls.
A monk sleeping in one of the guest rooms at the Trappist monastery of Latrun awoke from the noise outdoors and extinguished the flames, while the guard called the police, according to Israeli media accounts.
Graffiti in Hebrew included the words "Ramat Migron" and "Maoz Esther" -- the names of two unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank recently removed by Israeli authorities.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack, calling for severe punishment for the perpetrators.
"Freedom of religion and freedom of worship are among Israel's basic foundations," Netanyahu said in a statement after meeting with the ministers of public security and defense to discuss what actions were being taken to apprehend the vandals.
The incident, the latest in a growing series of politically motivated vandalism, follows by two days the eviction of Migron, the flagship of Jewish outposts in the West Bank, after a years-long court case over the outpost built at least in part on privately owned Palestinian lands.
Residents had left quietly following a relocation agreement with the government but police officials had expressed concern of possible reprisal on the part of Jewish extremists against Palestinians and other targets in the West Bank and inside Israel.
The attack on the Trappist monastery of Latrun, a well-known religious, architectural and tourist landmark surrounded with vineyards overlooking the highway between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, marks the spreading of attacks locally dubbed "price-tag operations," believed to be waged by Jewish extremists seeking to extract a price for Israeli government actions against settlements.
The police have appointed a special investigative team.
Over the years, suspects have assaulted West Bank Palestinians, and vandalized private property and mosques. More recently, targets inside Israel have come under attack, including a Christian monastery in Jerusalem and the joint Jewish-Arab community of Neve Shalom near Latrun.
Local media quoted Baruch Marzel, a well-known ultranationalist Jewish activist, who said the eviction of Migron had embittered many people. A statement on behalf of the evicted settlers, however, condemned attacks on religious buildings as "a forbidden act and moral corruption."
"I know there is some tension but I don't understand what it has to do with us," Father Louie, the monastery abbot, told an Israeli news site. "We're Christians and have nothing to do with it. We try to do everything with love. ... It is a shame that some people are unwilling to live with and accept people who are different."
-- Batsheva Sobelman
Photo: A monk walks between graffiti reading in Hebrew "Jesus is a monkey" as well as "Ramat Migron" and "Maoz Esther," two recently cleared outposts on the West Bank, which were sprayed on the wall of the Trappist monastery of Latrun near Jerusalem on Tuesday. Credit: Menahem Kahana / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.