BethlehemYishai Karov

The Palestinian Authority has been curiously silent over a major fire at a Christian church in Bethlehem.

In its sole statement, the PA said that the fire at the St. Charbal church in the city was caused by an “electrical malfunction” - a description that is at odds with an account by Israeli Christian Arab Father Gabriel Naddaf, who said that the church was burned down Saturday night by “Palestinian extremists."

“I condemn with all my heart the laxness of the Palestinian Authority in protecting Christian holy places it controls. I also hope that all the Christian leaders who demonstrated when the Church of Bread and Fishes near Tiberias was burned down will also demonstrate against this terrible act,” Naddaf wrote on his Facebook page.

According to Christian community leaders in Bethlehem, the fire was started by extremist Islamists who for months have been threatening community members with harm. As a result of the fire, several rooms on the church's second floor were completely destroyed. No one was killed or injured.

Sources quoted by Naddaf said that the fire was just another in a long series of attacks by Muslims against Christians in Bethlehem. “The PA tries to sweep these incidents under the rug but it never condemns these acts, which interfere with freedom of religion,” the sources said. Before PA chief Mahmoud Abbas “lectures Israel on its morality, he should look at his own responsibilities and deal with them appropriately,” Naddaf wrote.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also discussed the fire on his Facebook page, saying that he was “very proud that the Christian community in Israel grows annually. Unfortunately Israel is the only place in the Middle East where this is happening. In most parts of the region, Christians are persecuted and attacked. In the PA as well, including in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christianity, the Christian community shrinks each year.

“If the church was burned down by extremists, I would expect the PA to do everything possible to catch those responsible, as Israel has done when it comes to attacks on shrines of all religions,” Netanyahu added.