Churches Closed In Nazareth

Two days after the outbreak of sectarian violence, the town of 42,000 Muslims and 18,000 Christians was still simmering with fear and suspicion.

Distraught Christians closed churches in Jesus' boyhood town and some, armed with clubs, patrolled streets in response to weekend clashes with Muslims.

In the predominantly Christian neighborhood of Al Mutran, dozens of young men stood guard outside a small chapel, St. Mary's, at nightfall Monday. The Muslims "started it, and we're answering," said Gabi Maji, a member of the neighborhood watch. "We're defending the lives of our children."

Disappointed tourists visiting Nazareth's major attraction - the Basilica of the Annunciation - found locked gates Tuesday, with a notice posted on the doors in English explaining that the closure was an act of protest against assaults on Christians.

"This is not the way it should be. It's horrible for the people who were attacked," said Lars Petersen, 33, an elevator repairman from Copenhagen, Denmark, as he stood outside the church, where tradition says the Angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary she was pregnant.

The violence started during Easter Sunday celebrations in Nazareth. The city of 60,000 in northern Israel has long prided itself on its tolerance but has seen growing tensions between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority in recent months.

In Sunday's clashes, seven people were injured, 30 cars were damaged and six Muslim stone-throwers were arrested, police said.

"My house was attacked with stones today," said Salim Suliman, a 68-year-old Christian shopkeeper, on Tuesday. "I never imagined that this would happen. We always lived in tolerance."

At one point, thousands of young Muslim men gathered at a disputed downtown site near the Church of the Annunciation where the Christian mayor wants to build a plaza for millennium pilgrims.

Muslims say the land belongs to the Islamic Trust, or waqf, and demand that a mosque be built there. Last year, Muslim activists set up a protest tent where they have been holding daily prayers.

The land dispute is in court. The plaza construction is on hold.

The dispute over the park has heightened the already built-in frictions of life in modern-day Nazareth, reports CBS News Correspondent Jesse Schulman.

During the confrontations, some Muslims hurled insults and curses at Christian worshippers leaving the church. Other youths, wielding clubs, smashed windshields of cars with crosses dangling from the mirrors.

Rafieh Shihaberi, a 53-year-old Muslim engineer from Nazareth, said the religious tensions are destructive but the mosque must be expanded.

"What is happening in Nazareth is not in the interest of either Muslims or Christians," Shihaberi said.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

Comments

Follow Us

On Twitter