A Jewish extremist has been found guilty of carrying out a 2015 arson attack that damaged a church in northern Israel where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
On Monday, the Nazareth District Court convicted 22-year-old Yinon Reuveni for the attack carried out on the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, according to The Times of Israel. A second suspect, 21-year-old Yehuda Asraf, was found not guilty.
The 4th century church marks the spot where Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand, as recorded in the New Testament book of Mark.
The arson attack reportedly caused damages of around $1.5 million, of which the State of Israel contributed almost $400,000. In addition to torching the building, Reuveni reportedly scrawled "Idols will be cast out or destroyed" in Hebrew on the walls.
The indictment against Reuveni says he set fire to the church due to his hostility towards Christianity, according to the BBC. Local media reported he was connected to a number of other hate crimes, including the February 2015 arson attack at Jerusalem's Dormition Abbey, and had linked up with other extremists before attacking the church.
Reuveni was driven by the ideology held by the so-called "Hilltop Youth," a loosely organized group of ultra-nationalists known for establishing illegal outposts in Judea and Samaria, according to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). It added that Reuveni followed an "extremist ideology" that believes that "only someone who fights Christianity...can call himself a Jew."
The arson stirred widespread condemnation in Israel, and also solidarity protests by non-Christian Israelis.
"This outrageous arson attack against the church is an attack on all of us," Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the time.
The church, one of the most popular stops for Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, reopened in February of this year following eight months of renovation.
President Reuven Rivlin and his wife attended an interfaith meeting to mark the reopening along with a number of Christian dignitaries.
"We stand up for religious freedom because, as a people, we know very well what it means to suffer religious persecution," Rivlin said in a statement, according to The Times of Israel.
"And we stand up for religious freedom because we are a democratic state - who believe in the rights for everyone to worship God according to their belief."
"The last time I was here, we stood together and looked at the burned walls and the terrible graffiti," Rivlin added. "Today, I visit here again, and see the renewal of this historic, special, and holy place. I want to thank all the people who worked hard to restore this place, and to say clearly that hate cannot win."