An initial investigation into a fire at a Jerusalem church has revealed that the fire appears to have been accidental, police said Sunday. Palestinian Authority leaders and church officials had blamed the fire on “extremist Israeli settlers.”
The fire took place in the Alliance Church on Haneviim Street in central Jerusalem on Friday night. Thirteen people were lightly injured by smoke inhalation due to the blaze.
Witnesses at the nearby Bikur Cholim hospital had said that they believed the fire to be accidental. The most likely explanation appears to be that one of the church's own candles fell and ignited its surroundings.
Church leader Zakariyya Al-Mashriqi said Saturday that evidence pointed to “settlers” in the case. He accused Jewish groups of seeking to drive Arabs out of the area.
Hamas issued a statement on the same day condemning “the extremist Jewish settlers' assault” at the church, as did the Israel-based Islamic Movement.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' spokesman Nabil Abu-Rudeinah slammed Israel over the alleged arson. “The repeated attacks of settlers against Muslim and Christian holy sites indicate barbarity and terrorist behavior,” he said.
Senior PA official Riyyad Al-Maliki referred to the fire Saturday in a meeting with Canadian MP Bob Rae. He suggested that Jews who oppose Israel-PA talks were behind the fire at the church and similar fires in two Judea and Samaria mosques. As of yet, there is no evidence linking Jews to the mosque fires either.