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Bulldozer injures sheikh at Jerusalem cemetery

Aug. 10, 2010 8:33 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 11, 2010 2:25 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Sheikh Ali Abu Sheikha was injured Tuesday when an Israeli bulldozer struck him while when he attempted to block a construction crew from bulldozing a section of a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem.

Abu Sheikha suffered moderate injuries but refused to leave the Mamilla (Ma'man Allah) cemetery, Ma'an's correspondent said.

An Israeli police spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Israeli bulldozers entered the cemetery Monday night and began taking down headstones from Muslim graves, the Jerusalem-based Al-Aqsa Foundation for Waqf and Heritage said.

The destruction of graves was the third event in just over a week with Israeli officials telling Ma'an that the graves were destroyed because they were "built illegally with the aim to take over the plot."

Officials with the foundation, who have been observing the area closely following incidents of destruction at the site, said they witnessed a heavy police presence in the area and called news outlets to cover the event.

Demolitions continued until Tuesday morning, a statement issued by the foundation said, adding that journalists who arrived to document the incident were assaulted by police.

Hundreds of tombstones were taken down, the report said, the largest destruction since 2009.

Waqf officials, charged with overseeing Muslim religious sites in Jerusalem, could not confirm how many grave stones were taken down, but said there was evidence of bulldozer activity in the area. Officials said surveyors with maps of the original layout of the area would be dispatched to count how many had been destroyed.

The religious endowment department said it would ensure that officials from the Waqf were present overnight in the coming days to ensure the safety of the grave sites.

The first reports of demolitions came on Wednesday, when at least 15 tombstones and structures were torn apart or dismantled. The incident was the first reported since 2009, when over 1,500 tombstones were disinterred to make way for a controversial Museum of Tolerance. The foundation quickly denounced the move, describing it as a "heinous crime."

Most of the graves are unrecognizable and in disrepair, owing to decades of neglect. Descendants of those buried there say personal attempts to replace or maintain tombstones have been repeatedly quashed and swiftly removed by Israeli authorities. The Al-Aqsa Foundation's renovation crew says the municipality regularly thwarts their attempts to maintain the site.

The municipality says it "will not allow extremist elements to act illegally to change the status quo."
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