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Muslim graves vandalized near controversial Jerusalem museum

Nov. 10, 2011 6:00 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 12, 2011 9:58 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Racist slogans were sprayed over gravestones in an old Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem, site of a dispute between descendants of those buried there and supporters of a museum being built on the precinct, police said on Thursday.

An AFP photographer, who arrived at the Ma'man Allah cemetery, commonly called Mamilla, in the city center, said he saw graffiti on 15 tombs reading "price tag" and "death to the Arabs."

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said that "the slogans were painted several weeks ago" and had not yet been erased by municipal authorities.

Hardline Jewish settlers have adopted what they call a "price tag" policy -- a euphemism for revenge attacks against Palestinians and their property following Israeli government measures against settlements.

In recent months, the scope of such attacks has broadened, with vandals targeting Israeli army vehicles, mosques and cemeteries inside Israel and Israeli anti-settlement activists.

On Wednesday, police said they had arrested a 21-year-old male suspect in a graffiti attack and bomb hoax at the Jerusalem offices of Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now on Sunday, in which a wall was daubed with the words "price tag."

In the Jerusalem cemetery dispute, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group, is building what is termed a "Museum of Tolerance" abutting the graves.

The project has sparked controversy because it is being built on land belonging to the Mamilla cemetery, the burial ground of thousands of Muslim leaders, Sufi saints and Jerusalem families and estimated to date from at least the 12th century.

Descendants of those interred in the West Jerusalem cemetery say it also houses the remains of soldiers and officials of legendary Muslim ruler Saladin.

In late October, 84 international archaeologists urged Israel's Jerusalem mayor, the Israeli Antiquities Authority and the Simon Wiesenthal Center to halt the project.

In a letter to authorities, the scientists said the "surreptitious and unscientific" removal of hundreds of bodies to make way for the site violates international and Israeli law.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
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