Church defaced in Israel ahead of pope visit

Workers at the Israeli president's residence make preparations ahead of the Papal visit to Jerusalem. Pope Francis will visit the region for three days starting Saturday.

JERUSALEM - Vandals defaced a church in southern Israel in a suspected hate crime ahead of Pope Francis' visit to the Holy Land, police said Friday.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a church was defaced with graffiti in the southern city of Beersheba. Police suspect it is the latest in a series of hate crimes blamed on Israeli radicals, he said.

The attack was unusual as the location has not been hit by vandals before and the anti-Christian slurs were badly misspelled in Hebrew, Rosenfeld added.

There has been a recent spate of hate crimes, mainly in the form of vandalism and graffiti, targeting churches, mosques, dovish Israeli groups and even Israeli military bases.

The acts are believed to be the work of Jewish extremists protesting what they perceive as the Israeli government's pro-Palestinian policies and in retaliation for Palestinian attacks.

The attacks have been condemned by Israeli leaders across the political spectrum.

Rosenfeld said five "right-wing individuals" were given orders this week banning them from Jerusalem after intelligence reports indicated they planned a "provocation."

The measure restricts them from Jerusalem's Old City, which Francis will visit, and orders them to stay away from the pope.

The pope is expected on a three-day visit to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, beginning Saturday.