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(photo credit: AP)
An Israeli man who caused a riot in Nazareth on Friday evening by throwing firecrackers into the Basilica of the Annunciation visited Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah in 1999 to request political asylum.
Police said on Saturday that Haim Eliyahu Havivi carried out the attack during a packed Lent prayer service at one of the holiest sites in Christianity because he wanted to draw attention to his economic distress.
The riot that took place after the attack left 17 policemen and 10 protesters injured, as police who arrived at the scene to protect the family were confronted by stone throwers. The angry mob also torched several police vehicles.
Havivi, a 44-year-old Jewish resident of Jerusalem, carried out the attack in the presence of his 40-year-old Christian wife, Violet, and their 20-year-old daughter, Odelia, although it was unclear if the two women participated, a spokeswoman said. All three were taken to Tiberias Magistrate's Court on Saturday night and remanded in custody for 15 days.
"I have nothing against Christians or Muslims," a lightly wounded Havivi said at the hearing. "All I want is my children who were taken away from me by the state."
Welfare authorities had placed two of his younger children into foster care. According to police, he may have had a history of mental illness.
"It's nothing to do with him being right-wing or left-wing," a police spokesman said. "We know from the initial investigation that he has financial problems and we are looking at whether he has psychological problems."
Police said it was unclear why Havivi had sought refuge in the Palestinian Authority, but Palestinian reports claimed he wanted to settle in the territories with his Christian wife and their four children. In any case, his request for asylum was rejected by the PA.
Friday's incident started at 5.30 p.m. and ended at 10 p.m., resulting in slight damage to the church, police said.
Hundreds of policemen were rushed to Nazareth to contain the rioting. Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra and police chief Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi also arrived at the scene.
Karadi ordered increased security at holy sites around the country while Ezra praised the police for "their great restraint and sensitivity in difficult conditions."