Fire threatens Christian shrine in northern Israel

Galilee forest fire threatens Basilica of the Transfiguration, which draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year.


The Church of the Transfiguration, a Franciscan church located on Mount Tabor
The Church of the Transfiguration, a Franciscan church located on Mount Tabor
Anat Hermony/Flash90

A forest fire in northern Israel's Galilee region is threatening a church where Christians believe the transfiguration of Jesus took place, the fire service said Friday.

It said in a statement that the blaze broke out on Thursday and monks were evacuated from the Basilica of the Transfiguration overnight.

Fanned by strong winds the flames still menaced the church on Friday afternoon, fire service spokesman Dudi Peretz told AFP.

"An additional front of the fire is at the moment advancing toward the church," he said in Hebrew.

"The fire's center is far from main roads and the topography of the area and difficulty of access are hindering the work of the firefighting teams."

He said that the church itself had so far not been damaged.

Police said that arson was not suspected.

Israel has been gripped by record high temperatures accompanied by drought and strong winds over the past week, with wildfires reported across the country.

The basilica, built in 1924, by the Roman Catholic Franciscan order, sits atop the wooded Mount Tabor at a site where the Christian gospels say that Jesus -- accompanied by disciples Peter, John and James -- glowed with light and spoke with the prophets Moses and Elijah.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit the church every year, according to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees Roman Catholic properties in the area.

In a statement Friday it accused Israeli authorities of neglecting essential infrastructure at the site, failing to provide a proper water supply.

The fire, it said,"is a direct consequence of state negligence".