A lay leader of Israel's Christian minority was stabbed to death during an Orthodox Christmas procession by a person dressed as Santa Claus, his church said.

Police arrested six locals in connection with Friday's murder of Gabi Kadees in Jaffa, a predominantly Arab port district of Tel Aviv, but said there was no indication of a sectarian motive.

Kadees, the head of Jaffa's communal Orthodox Association, was stabbed in the back during a parade marking Jesus's birth according to the Eastern church calendar, Israeli media said.

The assailant, who slipped away in the crowd, wore a Santa Claus costume, senior Greek Orthodox cleric Atallah Hanna said.

He also killed our Christmas joy, and also killed the human and spiritual values embodied by Santa Claus -- who makes children happy on Christmas Eve, Hanna told Reuters.

Christians make up fewer than 5 percent of the population of the Jewish state, whose biggest minority is Muslim. Jaffa has seen some mob violence as well as tensions between long-time Arab residents and Jews.

Luba Samri, a police spokeswoman, said Saturday that while all angles of the murder were being investigated there was nothing to suggest a nationalistic motive -- Israel's term for crimes along political, religious or sectarian lines.

Six Jaffa residents, all Arabs like Kadees, had been arrested, she said.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Rosalind Russell)