Destroyed Muslim graves in Jerusalem were 'fake': Israel

JERUSALEM, Hazel Ward- Around 300 Muslim gravestones destroyed by Israeli bulldozers in a Jerusalem cemetery earlier this week were "fake" and set up in a bid to snatch government land, the city charged on Thursday.
The allegation was flatly denied by the Islamic Movement which earlier this week accused the municipality of razing recently renovated Muslim graves in a centuries-old cemetery in a large park in mostly Jewish west Jerusalem.

In its first official response to the claims, the Jerusalem city council on Thursday acknowledged it had removed some 300 tombstones, but said they were not erected over any human remains.
"The municipality and the (Israel Lands) Authority destroyed around 300 dummy gravestones which were set up illegally in Independence Park on public land.
"The court approved the removal of all the dummy gravestones which were laid in the last seven months," the municipality said in a written statement sent to AFP.
"This is a fraudulent set up, one of the biggest in recent years, whose aim is to illegally take over state land."
Underneath the tombstones excavators found only "plastic bottles, cigarette packets and parts of a sprinkler system," the statement said. It accused "Islamic elements" of trying to pull off a huge scam.
But the Islamic Movement completely denied the graves were fake, saying all of them contained bodies.
"Around 300 renovated tombs have been destroyed by the municipality over the last four days," said Mahmud Abu Atta, a spokesman for the Al-Aqsa Foundation which is linked to the Islamic Movement.
"All the tombs that we built or renovated contain bodies. We are 100 percent sure of that," he told AFP.
Abu Atta said that between 500 and 600 tombs had been renovated in total "with the municipality’s agreement.
"Some of the tombs had to be totally rebuilt," he said, denying the council's claim they were new tombs added illegally.
Jerusalem city council warned it would continue its demolition efforts until all the "fictitious gravestones" had been removed in order "to prevent every attempt at illegal building and the takeover of public land."
The dispute erupted late on Monday when the Islamic Movement said Israeli bulldozers had begun destroying some 200 graves in the ancient cemetery at Mamilla in an operation witnessed by an AFP correspondent at the scene.
The bulldozers returned later in the day to destroy dozens more after a Jerusalem court rejected a petition to halt the work.
The demolition of the graves took place very close to the site of a planned Museum of Tolerance to be built by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a US-based Jewish human rights group.
The project has sparked controversy because it is being built on land belonging to the Ma'man Allah cemetery, commonly called Mamilla, which dates from the 12th century and is the resting place of several Sufi saints.
Israel's 1.3 million Arab citizens include the descendants of Palestinians who remained in the Jewish state after the 1948 war that attended its creation.

Friday, August 13th 2010
Hazel Ward

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