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Israel forest fire threatens Christian transfiguration shrine

Church escapes damage as wildfires destroy 500 acres of vegetation on Mount Tabor

A forest fire in northern Israel that threatened a church where Christians believe the transfiguration of Jesus took place was extinguished without the shrine being damaged, according to firefighters.

The fire on Mount Tabor, site of the Basilica of the Transfiguration, broke out on Thursday and was under control by late Friday, but “small fires are rekindled every so often and teams at the site are dealing with them”, fire service spokesman Dudi Peretz told AFP.

“The church was not damaged,” he said, noting the fire had burned nearly 500 acres of shrubs, thorns and some trees.

Police said arson was not suspected.

Israel has been affected by record high temperatures accompanied by dry conditions and strong winds over the past week, with wildfires reported across the country.

The basilica, built in 1924 by the Roman Catholic Franciscan order, sits atop the wooded Mount Tabor at a site where the Gospels say that Jesus – accompanied by disciples Peter, John and James – glowed with light and spoke with the prophets Moses and Elijah.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit the church every year, according to the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which oversees Roman Catholic properties in the area.

The church does not have a proper water supply or sewage network.

The custodian of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton, called on the Israeli authorities “to meet their legal obligations and ensure a regular supply of water to the mountain and sewage system, even if elementary”.

“Ensuring the freedom of worship and access to holy sites includes the duty to supply basic services, and safeguard the lives of the monks and visitors there,” he said in a statement at the weekend.

A spokesman for the Israel Water Authority said in response that the costs of such infrastructure should be covered by the church and not the state.


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