HAIFA, Israel — The head of the Roman Catholic church in the Holy Land said Sunday that Israeli hate crimes against local Muslims and Christians are souring relations ahead of a papal visit.
"The unrestrained acts of vandalism poison the atmosphere — the atmosphere of co-existence and the atmosphere of collaboration, especially in these two weeks prior to the visit of Pope Francis," Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal said.
"It is also a blight on the democracy that Israel ascribes to itself," he told a news conference in the northern port city of Haifa.
The pope's visit is scheduled to begin in Jordan on May 24.
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On Friday, vandals spray-painted anti-Christian graffiti on a Jerusalem church, just days after the Roman Catholic church demanded Israel act following the discovery of racist slogans daubed on a Vatican-owned property elsewhere in the city.
"The bishops are very concerned about the lack of security and lack of responsiveness from the political sector, and fear an escalation of violence," the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said in a statement on Wednesday.
In the wake of last weeks attack, Israel police moved to step up security around holy sites.
Israel has been struggling to contain the spiraling number of so-called "price tag" hate crimes by Jewish extremists which target Palestinian and Arab property, including mosques and churches.
Although police have made scores of arrests, there have been no successful prosecutions for price tag attacks and the government has come up under mounting pressure to authorize the Shin Bet internal security agency to step in.