Holy Land cleric: Hate crimes threaten pope visit

HAIFA, Israel (AP) — The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land urged Israel to crack down on vandals behind a spate of hate crimes aimed primarily at Christian and Muslim sites on Sunday, weeks before Pope Francis visits.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal said that the vandalism "poisons the atmosphere of coexistence" for the papal visit at the end of May. He asked why the vandals haven't been caught.

He spoke two days after another church was defaced. It was the latest in a series of attacks believed to be the work of fringe Jewish radicals.

Churches, mosques, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases have been hit by the vandals.

The vandals are widely despised by the vast majority of Israelis and they have been condemned by leaders across the political spectrum.

Israeli police are investigating the hate crimes but so far have had little success in stopping them.

The vandals recently have scribbled anti-Arab and anti-Christian graffiti on several Christian holy sites and properties, including an attack this week on the Vatican's Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem.

Israel's internal security agency has said it fears there could be similar attacks as the pope's visit approaches.