JERUSALEM - Israel's top police officer on Sunday vowed that Jewish extremists would not be allowed to spoil the upcoming visit of Pope Francis by vandalising Christian holy places.
"You cannot exaggerate the importance of this visit on both a national and an international level," Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino told reporters in Jerusalem.
The two-day papal visit to Israel, which begins on May 25, was being treated by police with the same level of importance as that of US President Barack Obama, with an extra 8,000 officers to be deployed throughout Jerusalem, he said.
And he pledged that Jewish extremists responsible for a wave of racist anti-Arab attacks, which have also found expression against Christian and Muslim holy sites, would not be allowed to spoil the visit.
"All sorts of extreme elements... are trying to create pressure and the impression of pressure. We are rejecting this pressure and we won't let them succeed," he said.
"We will do everything to ensure they won't harm Christian holy places... and to ensure the trip goes successfully."
Earlier this month, Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal, head of the Roman Catholic church in the Holy Land, warned that hate crimes targeting Muslims and Christians was poisoning the atmosphere ahead of the pope's visit, with church officials "very concerned" about the lack of security.
Israel has been struggling to contain a spiralling number of so-called "price tag" hate crimes by Jewish extremists targeting Palestinian and Arab property, which has included an increasing number of vandalism attacks on mosques and churches.
Although police have made scores of arrests, there have been no successful prosecutions, and the government has come under mounting pressure to authorise the Shin Bet internal security agency to intervene.