Israeli Forest Fire Spares Christian Shrine

A helicopter tries to extinguish the blaze of a forest fire on Mount Tabor in northern Israel's Galilee region on July 26, 2019. - A forest fire in northern Israel's Galilee region is threatening a church where Christians believe the transfiguration of Jesus took place, the fire service said Friday. …
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty

Jerusalem (AFP) 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, firefighters said Sunday.

The fire on Mount Tabor, where the Basilica of the Transfiguration is located, broke out Thursday and had been put out 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 burnt nearly 500 acres of shrubs, thorns and some trees.

Police said arson was not suspected.

Israel has been gripped 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 Christian 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.

Holy Land Custos Brother 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 issued over 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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