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Attack on Nazarath church sparks riot

JERUSALEM (CNS): While Israeli leaders attempted to emphasise that a March 3 attack at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel was carried out by a troubled family with no political agenda, Latin rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah was quoted on Israeli television as saying the incident could not be separated from the atmosphere that incites such attacks against Arab targets.

On March 4, the patriarch and other Christian leaders joined a march in Nazareth protesting the attack.

Auxiliary Bishop Giacinto-Boulous Marcuzzo of Jerusalem and Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour of Akko, Israel, calmed the tempers of the massive number of youths who had gathered outside the basilica immediately after the attack.

Dozens of residents could be seen trying to separate angry Nazareth residents from police sent to safely remove Haim Habibi, his wife, Violet, and their 20-year-old daughter from the church.

The Habibis had entered the church with a baby carriage under the guise of pilgrims and set off a dozen firecrackers during the crowded worship service.

No serious injuries were reported during the incident or the riot that followed.

Israeli leaders accused Arab leaders of exploiting the incident – which took place just three weeks before March 28 Israeli elections – for political gain even when it became clear the Habibi family’s sole purpose for lighting the firecrackers in the church was to bring attention to their plea to have their three younger children returned to their custody after the youngest was removed from their home earlier in the week.

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