Holy Land: couple apologises for attack on church in Nazareth

 An Israeli couple who caused riots when they set off fireworks in Nazareth's Church of the Annunciation, have apologised for their actions. The incident began on Friday evening when Haim Eliahu Habibi, his wife Violet and their 20 year-old daughter smuggled firecrackers and small gas canisters into the packed basilica during Lent prayers. The church was not guarded. Panic broke out as the fireworks began exploding loudly. Eyewitnesses said there were loud bangs for about eight minutes. At least 13 people were slightly injured in the crush that ensued. Priests and police officers surrounded the suspects to protect them from the crowd. The Israeli media reported on Friday that the attack was not politically motivated and that Mr Habibi had a history of mental instability, but many commentators said the episode has heightened tensions in the region. On Saturday several hundred Christians staged a peaceful march through Nazareth calling for greater protection for the holy sites. Boulos Rececinto Marcuzzio, vicar of the Latin Patriarch in Israel and a bishop in Nazareth, said the attack was a cause for concern. he said: "What happened ... is strong enough to let us think that we have to ask for our legal protection here." The Latin Patriarch, Michel Sabbah, said: "We don't understand why and how this man came here, given his personality. Who sent him here? It is unclear, but it gives fuel to our anxieties about the future." In 2003 the family threatened to blow themselves up in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, gave assurances to the Vatican on Friday that Israel is committed to protecting Christian holy places. Ehud Olmert, the acting prime minister, also discussed the situation with Nazareth's mayor, Olmert's office said. The new Archbishop of Galilee, Archbishop Elias Shakur, issued a call for unity among Israel's citizens and dismissed the attackers as lone extremists. While praising the Israeli response, he said "it is not enough". "It's a big tragedy for all of us in Israel, for Christians, for having their most holy places spoiled and used in a barbaric way," he said. Speaking in court in Tiberius yesterday Haim Eliahu Habibi, 40, said he did not hate Christians or Muslims, and had targeted the church to draw attention to a child custody issue. Israeli social services have taken three of the Habibi children into care. Mr Habibi said: "I have nothing against Muslims or Christians. It is not logical for me to do such a thing to them, on the contrary. The only thing I want is to get my children back." Mrs Habibi said: "I am deeply sorry. I am not against anyone. I hope we will be forgiven." The court ordered the family to be kept in custody for 15 days. Father Artemio Vitoris, Vicar of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, told MISNA: "A family problem cannot be transformed into a political or even religious problem." Source: MISNA/BBC/Al Jazeera

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