JERUSALEM (AP) — Vandals spray-painted anti-Christian and pro-settler graffiti on a monastery on a hilltop overlooking the highway linking Tel Aviv with Jerusalem, Israeli police said Tuesday.
Suspicion fell on Jewish settlers and their supporters who retaliate against anti-settlement measures, generally by attacking Palestinian property, but also by vandalizing Christian sites and Israeli military facilities.
This week, Israel's government ordered settlers out of two unauthorized enclaves in the West Bank.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the vandalism at the Trappist monastery in Latrun took place overnight. Some of the graffiti referred to unauthorized settler outposts and one read, "Jesus is a monkey."
The vandals also set an exterior monastery door on fire.
The monastery, clearly visible from the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway at the foot of the Jerusalem hills, is a large compound with orchards and vineyards, encircled by a stone wall.
Israel's prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister denounced the attack. In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his minister of public security briefed him on police efforts to apprehend the perpetrators.
"Those responsible for this reprehensible act need to be punished severely," Netanyahu said. "Freedom of religion and freedom of worship are among the most basic foundations of the state of Israel."
U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell also condemned the monastery vandalism.
"Such hateful, dangerous and provocative actions are never justified," he told reporters.
The monastery, built by French Trappist monks in the early 20th century, is under France's protection according to a decades-old accord signed with Israel about French religious sites in the Holy Land.
France is calling on Israel to bring the vandals to justice, said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot.