Vandals burnt the door of a Catholic monastery west of Jerusalem on Tuesday and scrawled anti-Christian graffiti in an apparent "price tag" hate crime, police and witnesses said, putting pressure on authorities to take strong action.
"A wooden door of the convent was burnt by unidentified vandals and the slogan 'Jesus is a monkey' was sprayed on the walls" of the Trappist monastery in Latrun, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.
The Trappist abbey of Latrun lies 15 kilometres (10 miles) west of Jerusalem on the border between Israel and the occupied West Bank hard by the 1949 armistice line, and is one of the most famous monastic sites of the Holy Land.
In addition to the anti-Christian graffiti, the words "mutual guarantee" as well as "Ramat Migron" and "Maoz Esther" were spray-painted in orange on the walls of the monastery.
Maoz Esther and Ramat Migron are Jewish wildcat settlement outposts in the West Bank. Israeli police destroyed two structures in Ramat Migron last week.
Israel considers settlement outposts built without government approval to be illegal and often sends security personnel to demolish them. They usually consist of little more than a few trailers.
On Sunday, Israel evacuated the 50 families of what was the largest West Bank outpost of Migron in line with a court order. Police said they were bracing for retaliatory action.
But residents of Migron joined in condemnation of the attack against Latrun monastery. "Any attack against a religious institution, in Migron or anywhere in the world, is prohibited and morally corrupt," a community spokesman said in a statement.
"Price tag" is a euphemism for revenge hate crimes by Israeli extremists, which normally target Palestinians and Arabs and tend to involve the torching and vandalism of cars, mosques and olive trees.
But attacks have widened in scope and also targeted the Israeli army, Israeli anti-settlement activists and several churches.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "those responsible for this reprehensible act need to be punished severely."
"Freedom of religion and freedom of worship are among the most basic foundations of the state of Israel," his office said.
Signup to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
Defence Minister Ehud Barak called for Israel's Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency to be deployed in the "battle against Jewish terror."
"We must fight with an iron hand and put an end to these severe occurrences, which stain the state of Israel. We must uproot these phenomena," he said.
Israel's Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger spoke out against the "heinous deed."
"I object to any attack on a holy site, and hope the perpetrators are punished," he said in a statement to AFP. "I do not know who was behind the deed, but if it was Jews -- I ask for forgiveness."
Washington condemned the attacked on the monastery.
"We agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu who called the attack reprehensible, and we believe that such hateful, dangerous, and provocative actions are never justified," said State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell.
The French foreign ministry said it "strongly condemned" the "act of vandalism against a place of worship and peace," and called on Israel to bring its perpetrators to justice.
The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land urged Israeli authorities to "act to put an end to this senseless violence and to ensure a 'teaching of respect' in schools for all those who call this land home."
"Sadly, what happened in Latrun is only another in a long series of attacks against Christians and their places of worship," it said.
The Palestinian Authority also called on Israel to bring the perpetrators to justice.
"Several mosques have been attacked in recent months, but little or nothing has been done," it said. "The extremist policies of the Israeli government, marked by intolerance, encourage settler hate crimes against Palestinians and their places of worship."
On February 20, unidentified assailants daubed death threats on the walls of the Baptist House church in central Jerusalem and vandalised three cars.
Two weeks earlier, graffiti reading "death to Christians" and "price tag" were sprayed on the walls of the compound of the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Cross in mainly Jewish west Jerusalem.