Extremist Israeli groups have on several occasions in recent weeks attempted to storm the Stella Maris Monastery and Catholic church in the northern port city of Haifa, Israel, prompting Christians to take measures to protect the holy site.

After several attempts last week, intruders managed to infiltrate the outer courtyard of the monastery and disrupt the prayer session taking place, causing fear and anger among the Christian community.

In an effort by the church to deter any future attacks, work began today to install an iron fence around the monastery. The monastery was founded by the Carmelites, who have been practicing their faith from Mt. Carmel in Haifa since the 12th century, when hermits began to gather in a caves in imitation of the prophet Elijah. Tradition says that the prophet’s cave is located underneath the altar of the church.

Wadih Abu Nassar, an adviser to several churches in the Holy Land, commented on the installation of the fence in a post on his Facebook page, saying: “The gates will contribute to facilitating filing a complaint against those who jump over the gates and walls of the monastery as an aggressor. It will also facilitate protecting the monastery from attacks.” 

After a series of attempts to infiltrate the church, intruders were confronted by Haifa’s Christians last Thursday evening in the courtyard of the monastery and St. Elias Church.

The repeated attacks in Deir Mar Elias are linked to a group of extremist Israelis’ allegations that the Christian site contains the “tomb of the Prophet Elisha.” The church has responded to the allegations with a categorical denial, stressing that the monastery’s tomb contains only priests and monks.

The Justice and Peace Committee of the Council of Heads of Catholic Churches in the Holy Land condemned these attacks on Christian clergy and Christian holy places.

In a statement, the committee drew attention to the number of attacks in recent months against Christian clerics with beatings and insults in addition to the vandalism of sacred sites and offensive writings by extremist settlers.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who was just named a cardinal by Pope Francis and serves as the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, has raised concerns that Christians are increasingly enduring persecution in the Holy Land. He said the current administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has created a political climate in which acts of aggression are tolerated.

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“The frequency of these attacks, the aggressions, has become something new,” Pizzaballa said during Easter week, LaCroix International reported. “These people feel they are protected … that the cultural and political atmosphere now can justify, or tolerate, actions against Christians.”

The Islamic-Christian Committee for Jerusalem and its Holy Sites also condemned these provocations and stressed its intolerance toward repeated harassment and attacks on Christian sacred sites in the region, describing such actions as “barbaric.”

In a statement, the committee expressed deep concern over the ongoing assaults on the monastery under the pretext of conducting prayers for the Jewish prophet who they say is buried there.

The committee affirmed that claims of the existence of Jewish graves within churches are used as pretexts to seize sacred sites. It likened these actions to similar acts of aggression witnessed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque when Israeli troops raided the Muslim sacred site.

This story was first published by ACI Mena, CNA’s news partner in the Middle East. It has been adapted by CNA.