Athens.- Three people have been arrested and two more are wanted by police on the island of Crete, accused of participating in two arson attacks on Jan. 5 and 16 targeting the historic Jewish synagogue in the port-city of Hania. In a press conference on Friday, police announced that a local man from the nearby city of Irakleio, aged 24, and two British nationals, aged 23 and 33, are in custody, while another two suspects, both US citizens, are wanted.
The 33-year-old Briton, who is accused of being the perpetrator of the second arson attack on Jan. 16, denied the charges against him. The two US nationals are accused of the first arson attack on Jan. 5, while in the three detained suspects are accused of involvement in that incident, too.
The three suspects were led to the synagogue on Thursday night where a crime reconstruction took place.
The first fire broke out at 1:15 a.m. on Jan. 5. The culprits broke into the synagogue’s courtyard and set fire to an outdoor wooden ladder which leads to the library. The fire was extinguished immediately before it threatened the temple and the adjoining library, which features roughly 1,600 rare books and manuscripts. A bottle with a flammable liquid still burning was found at the scene by fire-fighters.
The second fire broke out at 4 a.m. on Jan. 16 and destroyed digital discs, four computers, tapes with Jewish music and books. Both attacks destroyed a total of 2,500 books.
The medieval synagogue in Hania’s old quarter is amongst the most noted Jewish temples in Greece, functioning as both a cultural centre and a house of worship.
The US State Department was the latest institution this week to condemn a second arson attack against a historic Jewish synagogue in the Crete port-city of Hania, an incident that generated a firestorm of condemnation from within Greece as well as a high-profile denunciation by the Ecumenical Patriarch, among others.
“We strongly condemn the January 5 and January 16 arson attacks on the Etz-Hayyim Synagogue in the city of Chania on the island of Crete. The Synagogue dates back to the Middle Ages and is one of the last Jewish monuments on the island. An attack on the Etz-Hayyim Synagogue is an attack on Greece’s history and heritage. The second attack caused severe damage to the Synagogue, destroying nearly 2,000 books and severely damaging the building’s wooden roof,” the State Department statement read, adding:
“This attack was clearly intended to intimidate and terrorize Greece’s Jewish community and is only the latest of several incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism throughout Greece over the past few years. We applaud the Greek government for condemning these attacks and taking a strong stand against anti-Semitism and racism.”
In a related development, the deputy director of the Israeli foreign ministry’s western Europe desk, Naor Gilon, spoke with Greek ambassador to Israel Kyriakos Loukakis, expressing the Israeli government’s concerns over the two recent attacks against the synagogue.
PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW AND ARCHBISHOP DEMETRIOS
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, reacting to the arson, wrote the following letter to Moses Konstantinis, Chairman of the Central Israeli Council of Greece:
“It is with profound sadness that we were informed at the Ecumenical Patriarchate about the new arson attempt against the building of the Hebrew Synagogue in the Old City of Chania. Therefore, through this our Patriarchal Letter, we want you to know that we condemn this deed as any other deed of violence and terrorism and, particularly, against sites of the worship of God. Furthermore, we express to you the deep sympathy of our Most Holy Church of Constantinople and ours too, as well as our deeply felt compassion over this sad event. We pray to God to protect you and the Jewish community in Greece from every assault.”
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America also made the following statement:
It is a deeply sad and disturbing that an attack on this historic 15th century synagogue or any house of worship should have ever happened. Clearly, such a sacrilege has been perpetrated by aberrant person or persons, who in no way represent the proud people of Crete or the Hellenic people as a whole, the names of whose heroes of the Holocaust are inscribed in the hearts of the Jewish people. We stand in solidarity with His All Holiness and all people of good will who condemn this cowardly act, and we pray for the swift restoration of this Synagogue, and for the well being of the historic Jewish community of Crete.
“Hellenes across the globe express sadness and outrage after learning of the arson attack against the Chania Synagogue on the island of Crete on January 7, 2010. “This is another attack to spread anti-Semitism and racism in Greece,” stated Andrew A. Athens, National Chairman of the United Hellenic American Congress (UHAC), President and Founder of hellenicare and the first World President of the World Council of Hellenes (SAE).
The attack on the Chania Synagogue was the fourth such incident in Greece expressing anti-Semitism feelings. Jewish synagogues, homes and other institutions were vandalized in Veria, Ioannina and Volos Greece. Criticism has also been levied against high profile individuals in Greece who attempt to justify these acts of violence against the Jewish community. Andrew Athens has expressed his concern to Prime Minister George Papandreou, offering assistance to deter future attacks.
“These acts of violence will not be tolerated. The Jewish community in Greece honors the Hellenic tradition and works together with all to make Hellenism a shining example throughout the world. We express our concern and offer our assistance in seeing that no further attacks occur,” continued Mr. Athens.
UHAC is requesting that people to contact Prime Minister Papandreou urging him to address the growing feeling of anti-Semitism and racism in Greece.