Police probe J'lem synagogue arson

Shul in French Hill neighborhood suffered damage to women's section.

Jerusalem police are investigating an arson attack at a city synagogue located near an east Jerusalem Arab neighborhood, police said Tuesday. The late-night attack, which occurred last week at the 'Sha'are Rachamim VeSemcha' Synagogue in the city's northern French Hill neighborhood, caused moderate damage to the synagogue. The synagogue is located on the periphery of the neighborhood, adjacent to the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya. Jerusalem police spokeswoman Sigal Toledo said Tuesday that police were investigating "all angles" in the attack, and were seeking to determine whether the arson was carried out by Arab or Jewish vandals. But synagogue officials said Tuesday that they were certain that the attack was the work of Arab teens from the nearby neighborhood. "We have absolutely no doubt that this attack was carried out by Arabs," said synagogue official Saadia Sasson, noting that Arab teens frequently loiter around the area. The fire, which broke out Wednesday night at about 11 p.m. after assailants hurled flammable material at the synagogue, burned several rows of chairs in the women's section of the orthodox synagogue, as well as several prayer books. Neighborhood residents who noticed the blaze phoned police and firefighters, who rushed to the scene within minutes. Sasson said that were it not for the quick response of firefighters the whole synagogue would have burned down. Congregants have been unable to use the synagogue since the fire due to the damage, and are currently praying outside the site, he added. It was not immediately clear Tuesday why police did not inform the press of the arson attack at the time. The arson was the first such attack on the synagogue since it was built two decades ago. A nearby gas station has been repeatedly firebombed by Arab assailants.