Three Israelis set off firecrackers inside a key Christian shrine in Nazareth on Friday, sparking panic among worshipers and a mass brawl outside.
One police car was torched as protesters in the Israeli Arab town tried to surge past officers into the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation to get at the perpetrators -- a man and two women.
Local television showed police using batons and stun grenades to keep protesters back. Police later took the three Israelis away for questioning. Thirteen people were injured, most of them slightly, Army Radio said.
Israeli officials quickly sought to defuse the anger and said security at churches and mosques would be stepped up. The incident was prompted by personal grievances the three Israelis had against the state, they said.
“This was not a [terrorist] attack and there was no specific intention to harm the Church of the Annunciation. We need to calm the situation,” Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra said on Israel Radio from Nazareth.
The church was not damaged, officials said.
Arabs make up about 20% of Israel’s population. Nazareth has a sizable Christian community. Police said all three of the perpetrators were Jewish, but Israeli TV said one of the women was Christian.